The NHS faces a recruitment crisis. Meanwhile proposals are in place to expand its services. Could a recruitment marketing-centred campaign provide that cost-effective means of getting more doctors to the door?
If you read the news this week you’ll know that on Monday, David Cameron proposed a seven-day week for GPs. Yesterday, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) warned that more than 500 practices will shut down in the next 12 months, with 600 more at risk, due to a recruitment shortage. Our incumbent crop of ageing family doctors means that, far from opening for longer, there will be even less access to GPs because there isn’t a new generation of medics to replace the retirees. A knowledge gap emerged somewhere between a generation deciding that X-Factor fame constituted an aspirational career move, and the arrival of Professor Brian Cox to make science cool again.
Pressures on the NHS
The NHS is stretched thin, and pressures on doctors can be savage. While GP practices can now apply for government funding to support seven-day opening, GP surgeries are currently asked to cover the costs from their own budgets. And despite the fact that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt plans to train an extra 5,000 GPs to cope with the additional hours, a fundamental problem remains that you can’t throw money at. You just can’t get the staff these days.
And that’s just the staff available to provide an adequate level of service, let alone a vastly expanded one.
A recent GP patient survey by Ipsos MORI suggested that the number of people unable to get through to their local GP on the phone has risen from 18% to 24% in two years, despite efforts to the contrary. And the British Medical Association (BMA) says the amount spent on practices fell by £400m between 2010 and 2013, while the number of consultations has risen considerably. Indeed, research by the RCGP reveals that real terms funding of general practice will face cuts of nearly £1.6bn by 2017.
And despite the government’s promise that subscriptions to GP training schemes will rise, Pulse – the UK’s leading medical industry publication which counts over 70% of GPs as its regular readership – recently reported a whole host of findings that suggest morale is endemically low, that a high proportion of GPs are considering emigration or early retirement, and that they would actively discourage their children from pursuing a medical career. It’s a sad, if not unsettling, state of affairs.
The recruitment marketing paradigm
Cost-effective solutions are badly needed, and what’s fascinating is we see this exact same issue from the recruitment marketing work we do in the energy industry.
As you might imagine, a global energy company like Shell needs to employ the best of the best in science and engineering. And there’s a marked generational gap in the study of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.
Coaxing this small pool of the most talented scientists from their comfortable corners is no mean feat, but it’s a creative challenge that pays dividends in the long run. The same is true for GPs and NHS recruitment.
We’ve spoken before about applying content marketing ideals to recruitment, to pique interest from the current crop of undergraduate students, and even those A-level students yet to start their university courses.
And while we await the burgeoning crop of medics, engineers and scientists spurned on by Professor Cox and marathons of The Big Bang Theory, there still exists an enormous pool of overseas talent.
While there’s a heavy contingent of GPs ready to up sticks and get out of Blighty, like ships in the night there’s a rich pool of overseas talent winging its way here, looking for the right opportunity to present itself. Foreign physicians make up almost a third of doctors employed by the NHS. They are vital.
Earlier this year, however, questions arose in the press over the difficulty of the competency exam for foreign doctors coming to the UK, further diminishing trust in the NHS front line, demonising the profession in this country and perpetuating recruitment problems. But it’s a problem that can, for example, be addressed by communicating requirements properly, addressing directly the issues that worry foreign and native doctors most, communicating safeguards to the public and providing comprehensive education and training resources.
While politicians play the eternal blame game back and forth over the NHS, the negative media attention levied on the service erodes it further while offering no viable solution. As a marketing professional, I believe that a communications campaign to re-establish trust in the NHS is absolutely crucial to its survival.