Edition 4

Subpage Hero


01 Feb 2024

The workforce conundrum - what’s the solution? Q&A with Richard Attwood, Finance Director at The Prestige Group

The workforce conundrum - what’s the solution? Q&A with Richard Attwood, Finance Director at The Prestige Group
While the NHS has vowed to fix its recruitment and retention issues, the absence of a long term social care workforce plan has again left industry leaders on their own to handle the serious challenges of finding the right staff. Here, Richard Attwood, Finance Director at The Prestige Group, talks to ‘Care & Nursing Essentials’ Editor, Nick Lavigueur, about what they’ve been doing to manage their human resources in recent years.

What do you think about the absence of a social care long term workforce plan and what action would you like to see from the government?

Recruitment and retention is one of our greatest challenges. Not only are there not enough staff in care but there is also the added pressure of staff being attracted to agencies through higher rates of pay.

One solution would be for some form of government / local authority care agency. They could offer staff the higher rates of pay but at least the profits on the hours they work would go back into the care system rather than to private companies.

Agency staff are essential for the care industry due to the strict staffing requirements and it not always being easy to cover shifts, especially at short notice. However, when you get an agency member of staff, you’re paying more for staff that don’t know the home or the residents as well. It is important for the home and the service that staff know the home and the residents. 

Why has it come to this? 

Good question. The care industry isn’t perhaps as glamorous as some other industries and, particularly during the pandemic, the profile of care homes wasn’t helped. This is a great frustration for me as our care staff worked hard throughout the pandemic at a time when we didn’t know what the dangers of Covid were. These staff work hard to make life enjoyable and comfortable for some of the most vulnerable members of society. It would be great to see more positive coverage about the great work care staff do to make life at a care home enjoyable.

There is always the argument that the rates of pay are too low, but then again where does that come from? That comes back to fees being too low. If you don’t have the fees, you can’t pay the rates. Also it is an easy solution to just pay more money, but I think enhancing the reputation of working in care and also highlighting the career path available in care would help. Most of the home managers and operations staff I meet started out as carers and often advanced quite quickly through the ranks. If you want a path to a well paid job then care is definitely something to consider, it does come with a lot of hard work though.

What have you been doing to attract and retain staff? 

Recruitment is something that will always be a challenge because of the nature of the industry - when you’re paid minimum wage people will move around jobs. 

We do tend to find we get those that stick with you for a long time, and those that don’t take to it so move to another industry, so you’ve always got that challenge. 

In terms of things that we’ve brought in over the last couple of years to try and make it more attractive for people to come and work with us, we offer an additional payment for overtime for people covering shifts and we’ve put a sickness bonus in place. Care offers great flexibility for working parents for example. There is always the opportunity to pick up extra shifts to earn more money too.

Rather than paying agents to recruit people, if we can get staff to do it by word of mouth it helps immensely, so we have a recommend-a-friend scheme as well. We would far rather pay our own staff a bonus for helping with recruitment.

I’d say we’ve been relatively successful as two or three years ago, the amount of agency use we had was a lot higher than it is today. Will we ever get it to zero? I’m not sure but we’re certainly trying.

The shortage of frontline carers gets the headlines but that’s not the only recruitment headache is it?

Attracting managers and operations staff can be a challenge as well, there’s a lot of managers out there who don't stay in jobs long - maybe six months to a year in each job. It’s easy to say ‘don’t take them on’ but sometimes that’s all you’ve got to choose from, so you have to try and support them and try and help them to make it work. In addition to this, there is a well known shortage of nurses which also brings challenges.

Are you having to recruit from overseas?

Yes, and it’s been quite successful. Our first overseas nurse joined us about three years ago and she’s still with us now. It’s been quite effective because as everybody knows there’s a shortage of nurses, particularly in the care industry. It can be difficult to recruit nurses because a lot want to stay within the NHS, they don’t want to come into care homes.  Our experience with overseas nurses has been a positive one, they’re keen to work and they’re keen to integrate. You pay the sponsorship fee for them, but if they stick with you and they do the hours then it pays for itself. We took our first two in 2020 and we’ve since taken five more on. We help them at each stage of the process from interviewing them in their own country to finding them accommodation, putting them through their OSCE training and their exams. Once they get their pin, they can work for us as a nurse. Prior to passing their OSCE exam they can still work for us as a Senior which helps to solve another shortage. I think it’s been quite a success.

How do you find them? 

We used an agency that took care of everything and then our operations team of nurses would interview them online before any commitment was made. There was quite an outlay for us at the outset, but when you compare it to having to pay an agency for a nurse it is a much better investment. We’ve had some from Nigeria and some from Zimbabwe. We started to make enquiries about Indian nurses as well.


View all Edition 4