The NHS is the institution we’re most proud of in the UK. So could you do your bit to support a new campaign to hire nurses? Read on…
by Dan Charlton
Demand for NHS services is increasing, money’s getting tighter, staff and services are under more pressure than ever before. So who’d want to be an NHS mental health nurse right now?
Answering that one is the crux of the nurse recruitment challenge facing the NHS. One school of thought suggests you should seek the answers from the recruitment or marketing specialists. We decided to ask our nurses.
Having recently published stats that show people with severe mental illness in our area live up to 20 years less than the general population*, the need to improve services couldn’t be starker. But it’s one thing making the case for change and investment in mental health services; we need more nurses, because they’re at the heart of the care we provide.
'That's why we've launched a nurse led recruitment campaign'
Our principle as a communications team operating in a large, geographically dispersed NHS organisation covering the whole of Sussex and Hampshire is to 'get out there' as much as possible; if you don't understand what's happening in clinical services then you're at risk of becoming out of touch and irrelevant. Hopefully, the relationship we've developed with people has helped encourage them to sign up for the campaign. We’ve certainly asked a lot of people - not just help with research, but on camera interviews, photoshoots, the works. To be fair we didn’t need to do much cajoling; nobody gets the urgency of the nurse recruitment challenge more than staff working within mental health services, and they’ve been extremely generous with their time and support.
One of the things that flowed from our conversations with staff is our new ‘nursing at Sussex Partnership’ film, released on 11 October via a social media thunderclap campaign. It’s a story about nursing, told by nurses, without an NHS chief executive in sight (no offence to our chief executive, or any others, of course).
We worked with brilliant filmmaker John Richardson (@mindwick), who specialises in mental health, on the production. From the off, our discussions with him about the brief was to produce something as far away as possible from some of the more dry, corporate recruitment films our research identified.
The premise was to use the ‘not just a job’ brand developed in-house by the communications team; a creative concept which draws on personal testimonies of nurses about what they feel about their role. But we were careful and cautious about not scripting the film; we wanted a narrative framed by authentic staff experience.
And you can’t fake or script the unbridled passion, compassion and commitment to patient care that came through in the hours of footage we shot for the film. Our nurses told us about the difference it makes to them to be able to make a difference to patients’ lives. They spoke about being able to give something back to others, being moved by the experience of people who come into our care, feeling part of a team and going home from work with a smile on their face.
What we heard was inspiring, moving and humbling. We couldn’t have asked for more in helping craft a powerful pitch to sell the idea of becoming a mental health nurse.
We hope the film will resonate with people who are thinking of coming into the mental health nursing profession straight from university, as part of a career change or a return to the profession. We also hope it plays well with our existing staff as a way of acknowledging, celebrating and saying thank you for the fantastic work they do.
The campaign is located within our wider strategy to make Sussex Partnership the kind of organisation people would want to come and work within and stay at; not simply because we think that would be nice, but based on the acres of research demonstrating the link between staff experience and patient outcomes. We’ve got more work to do on that - and we need to keep at it – but we’ve seen an 11% increase in staff who say they would recommend the organisation as a place to work.
Our wider ‘not just a job’ campaign has incorporated everything from paid for press adds and social media to rebranded recruitment material and mainstream media coverage. And lots of staff engagement; one of the reasons for the ‘thunderclap’ launch of the film on 11 October is to harness the powerful and vocal social media presence of our staff.
So what’s our measure of campaign success? As it stands, we’re about a third of the way towards our target of recruiting 150 new nurses by April 2018. If we get there, it will go a long way towards helping us continue improve the care we provide to patients and families. It will also make a dent on the whopping £6m we spent last year on agency nursing nurses (a third of which went straight on agency fees); money that would be much better spent directly on clinical services.
But there’s a broader benefit to the campaign in terms of generating a shared sense of mission across the organisation. Our staff have been fantastic champions and advocates for our recruitment drive from day one. And there’s certainly a bit of a buzz about the thunderclap (which the chief executive will count down to on the day during one of her regular staff engagement sessions). You can’t put a price on this kind of campaign ‘halo’ effect, not least given the importance in creating a culture that helps keep people at an organisation once they’ve joined.
And here’s the ask of fellow comms professionals: we’d really value your help in spreading the word by signing up to support the thunderclap (just click on the link below and give the green light via your social media account). With the 70th anniversary of the NHS on the horizon, there couldn’t be a better time in our view to celebrate the fabulous work of nurses and encourage more people to join the profession…
Dan Charlton is director of communications at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
* Research undertaken by the Strategy Unit on behalf of NHS England, and published by Sussex and east Surrey Sustainability and Transformation Partnership
image via John O’Nolan