Just R’s Response to the NHS Staffing Crisis ‘Gridlock'

NHS recruitment and retention specialist and founder of Just R, Rachael, has her say on the ‘gridlocked’ staffing crisis that the health sector is facing


Reading the Nursing Times recent article regarding the ‘gridlocked’ Health and Social Care system, this highlighted the symptoms of a problem which I have been concerned about for years. The NHS and Health and Social Care aren’t casting their nets wide enough when it comes to recruitment.  

For years, I have witnessed how the majority of the health and social care sector were fishing in the same pond of experienced healthcare workers, with little focus applied to attracting and inspiring job seekers to consider Health and Social Care. Now, at a time of unprecedented demand and high attrition, there are more competitor organisations than ever looking to reach these people (Amazon, Aldi, Lidl… the list can go on).

My vision is one of values-aligned individuals, inspired to develop a career in health, joining at entry level and progressing to fulfil the needs of the system through a learning model of healthcare. 

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NHS Trusts must now focus on HCSW and HCA recruitment, they are the future of the NHS. The pool of experienced workers becomes smaller every day, only to be soon exasperated by the increasing numbers of workers taking retirement in the coming 12 months.

For years, my team at Just R and I have listened with frustration as we were told by NHS teams that recruiting to these critical roles which make up 30% of the NHS workforce was ‘not a priority’ as it was ‘easy to recruit to these vacancies’. 

This was in response to Just R providing Trusts with applications from incredible people who had reacted to advertising campaigns aimed at Nurses or other qualified roles, seeking to start on their path to working in healthcare. These adverts had, in many cases, prompted an inner desire to work in care which through many circumstances they had never been able to fulfil.

All of their detailed short form applications and inspired conversations with our candidate consultants were met by the response that they ‘weren’t a priority and they should keep an eye out on NHS Jobs’. Thus, values-aligned candidates were slipping through the net unnoticed, feeling rejected and dejected.

Gone are the pre-Covid days of the gluttony of experienced applicants, when HCA vacancies could be open for 2 days and receive hundreds of applications from experienced support workers. Fast forward to post Covid times and the landscape is very different. 

The need to recruit to these vacancies continues to increase, with attrition rates in many organisations meaning recruitment cannot keep up with the volume of leavers. 


At Just R we are less so tasked with delivering HCA / HCSW campaigns but, in many instances, are running campaigns seeking experienced workers. My question is, where are these experienced care workers coming from? 

Herein lies one of the many stresses on the social care workforce. The majority of these experienced workers come from either another NHS organisation or the health and social care sector, exacerbating the problem within social care which is gridlocking the system.

What can be done?  

Healthcare organisations need to remove the focus on experienced workers which will never increase the pool, especially in light of the increase in healthcare workers taking retirement over the next 2 years. 

Instead, Trusts should focus on recruiting the right people, with the right values and attitudes, inspiring them on the prospect of a career in health, with the priority being on training and upskilling them to ultimately increase the volume of healthcare workers in the system.

Great organisations are not built on talent, they grow talent which in turn builds their organisation, and now is the time for the NHS to again begin this process. 

Richard Branson recently stated: “The first thing to look for when searching for a great employee is somebody with a personality that fits with your company culture. Most skills can be learned, but it is difficult to train people on their personality”.

Why attitude and values are so important

  1. People with great attitudes are a lot more coachable. If your employees aren’t open to learning and growing, you will end up spending a lot more time and money on training them, or they will quit. The key is looking for people who are always looking to get better every day. They must be open to constructive feedback.
  2. Your people are the face of your organisation. Each time your employee interacts with a patient or another member of their team, they’re leaving an impression on your organisation. Every single impression matters; the more great interactions that take place, the more that will be encouraged. 
  3. One bad apple can ruin an entire team. One bad hire can lead to a whole host of problems: toxic culture, wasted money and destroyed reputation among patients and future recruits. I have personally experienced one bad hire which resulted in 6 people leaving before we got to the bottom of the problem. No matter how positive the culture begins it can be destroyed in a matter of months with the wrong people.

How do you recruit with attitude and personality at the forefront? What do you look out for in interviews?

What to pay attention to when hiring.

  • Specifically structured recruitment process: First of all the recruitment process must be structured to enable candidates’ personalities to come through. Application forms must ask ‘values-based questions’ which enable the candidate to reference real-life or work-based situations which demonstrate values and you need to talk about them during the interview process.
  • Body language: Do they make eye contact? Do they shake your hand? Do they smile a lot? Do they reflect your values?
  • Tonality: Do they have the right tone of voice? Do they sound positive – but not too full of themselves?
  • Sociability: Do they tell a good story? Do they ask great questions? Are they interesting/fun to talk to?
  • Confidence: Do they have respect for themselves? Can they prove their worth when you challenge them? (Be mindful of the difference between confidence and arrogance).


Of course, many people looking for entry-level positions will need support and an environment which enables their true selves to shine through, which is why it is essential to think carefully when considering who is carrying out interviews. Do they reflect your organisation in a good light? Do they live your values? Are they caring and compassionate? Do they bring out the best in people and are they confident in the interview process themselves?

How to get candidates to show you their true personality.

  1. Is it possible to get them outside the interview room? Go for a walk or a coffee? If that’s not an option, make sure that the atmosphere is more informal and ask for stories about their work and life history.
  2. Ask questions about their past challenges such as “tell me about a time when you have been confronted with an irate person” or “tell me about a time you have let someone down, how did you respond to that?”. If there is any sign of making excuses or blaming others, you don’t want to hire these people. Hire people who take responsibility and find solutions.


You must reach and inspire high volumes of people to develop this pipeline of motivated, driven people to help build the NHS workforce of tomorrow. At Just R we are dedicated to supporting the NHS to build this pipeline, creating a long-term, sustainable solution to the NHS workforce crisis. 

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Just R

Written by

Rachael Bagshaw

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