Bromley Healthcare had to adapt fast to the coronavirus pandemic, but had a good headstart with its unique community nurses readiness programme and its flexible approach.
Nowhere has Covid-19 caused more upheaval and additional pressure than in the health service, but some of the ways that teams have found to adapt to the pandemic have had unexpected positive impacts.
Bromley Healthcare, which provides community health services in South East London, has not only managed to do an amazing job supporting the public during the pandemic, but it has managed to fill some of the vacancies it was finding hard to plug and improved some of its recruitment processes along the way.
The Government guidance allowed NHS providers to recruit final-year student nurses from the start of the pandemic rather than waiting several months until they finished their courses. The students were asked where they wanted to be placed during the pandemic and the hours they worked would contribute to their degree. Fourteen said they wanted to work with Bromley Healthcare in large part because of the previous outreach work the organisation had done at
careers fairs, promoting its innovative community nursing readiness programme, which was shortlisted for a workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Award.
This is a 12-week programme to give those returning to nursing and newly qualified nurses the competencies they need. “People love it,” says Rob Phillips, Recruitment/Agency Lead at Bromley Healthcare. “In many organisations returners and new recruits are just thrown in at the deep end, but community nursing is very different from other nursing. You are often on your own. There are also safeguarding issues. Here at Bromley Healthcare we prepare people.”
While the new final-year nurses had to start right away, they will be able to tap into the next programme in September to get any additional support they need and to benefit from being part of a cohort group.
According to the Government’s coronavirus guidance, final-year nurses were to be hired on a fixed-term contract, but Bromley Healthcare gave all 14 ‘aspirant nurses’ a permanent contract from the off and all have decided to stay on and will be fully registered in the next two months.
“Before all of this district nursing vacancies were our biggest recruitment issue. Now we have made significant progress into reducing vacancies in this area,” says Rob.
Like most other employers, Bromley Healthcare had to adapt very quickly to the pandemic and HR generally faced a lot of pressure. For instance, they had to temporarily stand down some services and redeploy staff such as health visitors and speech and language therapists to frontline nursing and support roles, including on a local rehabilitation ward. One 92 year old who had communication difficulties was discharged after weeks of treatment able to speak because he
received nursing support by a Speech and Language Therapist. “We have had many positive stories,” says Rob.
It was an enormous undertaking. Profiles were changed and staff were sent questionnaires about any particular challenges they faced. Those who were shielding or had particular difficulties due to the pandemic were enabled to work from home.
Rob’s team also had to adapt. Rob was already set up to work from home, but many in his team were not. They had to have remote desktops enabled and they had to be asked if they were happy to use their own IT equipment. A lot of the work of the recruitment team, both for permanent and bank and agency work, involves working on the phone or online. Just one member didn’t have a laptop or pc so Rob went into the office and packed up her desktop and drove it to her house.
He also procured and delivered phones for the whole team along with M & S vouchers they and all staff had been given by the Board to acknowledge everyone’s hard work. “We had to adapt at the switch of a button to doing everything remotely in keeping with the NHS guidance,” he says. He reckons that within a week the team was working well remotely and had access to all the systems they needed.
The wider HR team kept in touch on Zoom and there were some social events organised online too to keep morale up. Rob also speaks to the members of his team every day to check they are okay. The senior leadership meetings have also been conducted on Zoom and Rob has moved interviewing to Zoom. It has worked so well that, after tightening up the process, he is recommending that it becomes the norm to have the first round of interviews on Zoom and the second face to face with social distancing. “It means that you save time and managers only interview the strongest candidates face to face. Setting up interviews takes time and things are much quicker on Zoom,” says Rob.
Another big focus for Rob has been on health and wellbeing. He has directed many to the organisation’s employee assistance programme and says he has noted that members of staff are becoming more health conscious. For this reason, Bromley Healthcare is looking at providing a salary sacrifice scheme for people wanting to buy a bike and cycle to work.
The organisation responded to the crisis very well and he says, that despite the challenges, it is clear that there have been many positives. “Our CEO is amazed by some of the stories,” he says with pride. “We have been able to adapt and now we are keen to encourage our nurses to take a much needed break to recharge for whatever the months ahead will bring.”