Mental health trust looks overseas to help fill hundreds of vacancies

Andrew Hopkins, acting chief executive of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

Andrew Hopkins, acting chief executive of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. - Credit: Archant

A mental health trust, which has cut hundreds of jobs over the last year, is looking to launch a recruitment campaign overseas to help fill vacancies, it has emerged.

Bosses at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) admitted that they have 505 vacancies at the organisation, which is in the midst of a major overhaul of services.

As part of a new recruitment strategy, the mental health trust is looking into the possibility of hiring new staff from Ireland and Portugal.

Campaigners last night spoke of their surprise at the move, which comes after around 400 jobs were cut as part of a radical redesign of NSFT to reduce the trust's budget by 20%.

Officials from the organisation said they were actively recruiting 361 of the 505 vacancies.

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Andrew Hopkins, acting chief executive, said a number of vacancies had been kept open during the restructure and some staff had decided against moving across the organisation's five areas. However, the trust had just recruited nine consultants and an overseas campaign was more of a long-term solution.

'It is one of many options. Portugal has been a favourite for a number of trusts, but a large part of the strategy is looking across the UK. Ireland is much more favourable and Portugal is less likely.'

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'It is not unusual to have eight to ten per cent vacancies at any one time. At the moment it is 12% and we want to get it down to seven or eight per cent,' he said.

In a report to directors, Jane Marshall-Robb, director of workforce, said the trust was facing 'unprecedented' challenges around recruitment, meaning a 'more creative approach' was needed.

She added that there had been a 'history of poor workforce planning and anticipation of vacancies' and it was difficult to recruit to posts such as drug and alcohol workers and mental health practitioners. The report added that it was difficult to recruit to areas such as West Norfolk, Great Yarmouth, Waveney and West Suffolk.

However, union officials spoke of their concern that experienced and skilled staff had left the NHS trust.

Carol Briggs, Unison branch Secretary, said: 'We are concerned at the cost of recruiting staff externally, and question the timing when there is still no indication how many staff will be transferring back to Norfolk County Council as a result of the Section 75 agreement being revoked. Unison does not believe that management currently has a clear picture of the current or future workforce. It is concerning they are not listening to staff representatives, who often have a much clearer picture of what is happening on the front line. We would welcome dialogue with the trust about these plans,' she said.

Members of the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk will be staging a demonstration outside Hellesdon Hospital, in Norwich, at 10am today over their concerns about a lack of inpatient beds.

Terry Skyrme, a member of the campaign, who works in the crisis resolution team at NSFT, said he found it 'incredible' that the trust was looking to fill vacancies from abroad.

'I have no objections to foreign workers. However, if your English is not great, it is not easy to work in mental health,' he said.

• Campaigners have posted their take on the reorganisation of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust with new subtitles to the movie Downfall, which depicts the final days of Adolf Hitler's final days in a Berlin bunker.

The video on the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk has been titled 'Downfall video: NSFT leadership team in the Hellesdon Hospital bunker.'

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