Ruth French is Operations Director of Stow Healthcare, a family owned and run company based in Suffolk, which specialises in turning around troubled care homes. Three of Stow Healthcare’s five homes are rated as ‘Outstanding’.
There is a temptation in the recruitment of nurses to the care home sector to make the solutions ever more complex. We know that the shortfall in nursing cannot be met by UK graduates alone and we value the role that overseas nurses play and must continue to play in our care homes – one of my own EU national staff was awarded the Nurse of the Year accolade at the GB Care Awards this year. But we also know the complexities of bringing overseas nurses to the UK, especially to rural locations, with poor public transport links and where additional support must be given to encourage language proficiency, access good accommodation and manage cultural integration.
Why then is relatively little time spent by the care home sector talking to our homegrown student nurses about the opportunities that we have, which are often a very different and attractive proposition to that which the NHS can offer? In 2017 we tested this theory, reaching out to our local university and putting on a careers evening for student nurses. We were thrilled by the response: six students and a lecturer attended and listened to inspiring case studies of nursing and management careers in care homes and the impact that our nurses have on leading outstanding care for our residents. Three of these graduates joined our company to begin their preceptorship just a few months later.
This experience has transformed our company. 18 months later, our three preceptees all remain employed by us. We have created a comprehensive Preceptorship Programme; we have updated and created new mentors to support them; we have launched a proactive placement programme for student nurses, paramedics and, starting in 2019, physiotherapists. In short, our small company of five homes, a company which eight years ago was only just starting out, has become a centre of learning and development, which benefits every member of staff in our employment.
Other rural care homes will empathise with the plight that we found ourselves in 18 months ago: recruitment is tough for nurses wherever you are, but when you also throw in the fact that you really need nurses to drive and own a car, you limit your pool even further. At our local university however, a significant number of those student nurses are locals, making a daily commute to their university, and many of them were inspired to become nurses by guess what – their previous career as a carer in a care home. So, not only do they understand care homes, they also know how connections with GPs and other associated healthcare professionals operate.
What we found so interesting was that the university told us that no other care provider had approached them. No one else was offering this insight into care home nursing. Of course companies might visit a university careers fair – we’ve done it ourselves – but to convey the variety of inspiring opportunities needs more than a three minute drop buy and a goodie bag.
The truth is that care home nursing has so much to offer the graduate nurse, especially one who wants to become a real leader and someone who wants to develop confidence in autonomous decision making. It’s all too easy in a hospital environment to defer tricky decisions to a doctor. Care home nurses have to think carefully before putting in that call. Every company out there will have something different to offer nurses graduating from our universities, what most of them will have in common is a much more attractive starting salary than the NHS can offer, and I bet there aren’t many care homes who charge their staff to park each day. But money is rarely the biggest motivator for nurses; the common denominator in the graduates who have joined us this year, is their passion for the impact they are able to have on an ongoing basis with their residents. The satisfaction gained from nursing the same person over weeks, months and years is understandably often so much more intense than seeing a patient fleetingly pass through a ward.
The question for us is, can we repeat this success? We are trying to make sure of it! We have not only hosted another nurse recruitment event, but we are now expanding our reach to talk to health and social care students in local sixth forms and years 10 and 11 too. We are helping a new generation see what care homes have to offer for their careers. So, let’s not over-complicate it. Sometimes you really don’t have to think too far out of the box.