Catch them young to fill those empty NHS posts.
The NHS in Wales is increasingly looking abroad to recruit staff to meet its day-to-day needs, but with ambitious targets to significantly boost staff numbers by 2010, it must encourage young children to consider the health service as a career when they leave school. This week is NHS Open Week, the third annual drive to encourage youngsters to consider working in a clinical environment. This year the Welsh Assembly Government initiative will bring the hospital to the future generation of doctors, nurses and radiologists, as its organisers told Health Editor Madeleine Brindley
A GENERATION ago a career as a doctor or a nurse would top the 'When I grow up I want to be ...' wish list for young children, guaranteeing a steady stream of eager young recruits into Wales' medical schools and eventually into the NHS.
Not so today. Today's young children, influenced by the growing number of television shows featuring the more unusual health-related careers, are more likely to want to be forensic scientists, pathologists and criminal psychologists thanks to a steady televisual diet of programmes such as Silent Witness and Cracker.
While this may be good news in the sense that children are no longer growing up thinking about the NHS solely in terms of doctors and nurses, there is also a down side to such interest in these type of specialist posts, not least the fact that television tends to portray the glamorous side of the job, rather than the day-to-day reality.
But despite such fresh interest, the NHS continues to face massive problems recruiting staff - the latest workforce figures reveal that nurse vacancies are still rising; almost one in 10 of every consultant post is empty; the NHS needs more than 100 more allied health professionals and vacancies for scientific and technical staff have risen significantly in the space of six months.
The lack of people willing to work in a clinical environment has forced NHS trusts to, quite literally, scour the globe for fresh blood.
Overseas recruiting drives have seen trusts employ significant numbers of professionals from Spain, the Philippines and now, Poland - research by Oxford University states that the NHS is increasingly becoming dependent on overseas doctors to fill the posts that home-grown doctors do not want.
North Glamorgan NHS Trust, which runs Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil, is the latest Welsh trust to once again look to overseas to meet its recruitment problems.
After recruiting 40 Filipino nurses in 2000 - 70% of whom are still working within in the trust - officials are planning to return to the islands at the beginning of next year, in a bid to recruit 50 nurses to fill the vast majority of 60 long- standing vacancies.
Yet, while overseas recruitment may bring some immediate relief to staff shortages, we cannot continue to head-hunt and poach the best from overseas - there is already concern that recruitment drives on behalf of UK hospitals is creating a brain drain in the very countries that can least afford to lose their most talented medical and nursing staff.
Nor can Wales continue to rely heavily on agency staff to temporarily fill vacancies - the annual bill for agency nurses alone has mushroomed from pounds 6.9m in 1999-2000 to pounds 21.415m last year, the cost of a new small hospital.
If Wales is to meet the ambitious target of recruiting an extra 6,000 nurses and 525 consultants, not to mention other 'backroom' health professionals by 2010, we must make more of an effort to grow our own.
Wales is starting to make inroads to training more health professionals within its borders, with increased places at clinical schools and encouraging trained staff to return to the NHS, but this is against the background of the rising cost of studying for a medical career, the introduction of tuition fees and the very public problems faced by the NHS in Wales.
If Wales is to succeed it must first convince the next generation of health professions and NHS staff - schoolchildren - that Wales' largest employer has something to offer them.
Which is where the third NHS Open Week, which runs throughout this week, comes in.
'There are two key barriers in terms of encouraging children to consider a career in the NHS,' said Fran Russell, project manager for NHS Open Week.
'The first is the misconception that they will need very high levels of qualifications. The other is that the very title of the jobs do not reflect the jobs available in the NHS.
'When we went to North Wales an ODP [operating department practitioner] gave a presentation to a group of A-level students. When he asked them if anyone knew what an ODP was no one knew, but by the end of his presentation they all thought it was an exciting job and we couldn't get the children out of the library.
'We also have an awful lot of problems getting work experience for children in the NHS - they have to be 16, then there are all the issues about patient confidentiality, health and safety and there are some clinical staff who are uneasy about having school- children in their departments.
'The whole of the NHS is geared towards the latest technology and that's something that will appeal to and interest children.
'I remember asking a member of the pharmacy staff why they needed to wear blue scrubs and she asked me who I thought kept the premature babies alive - they make up the feeds that keep the premature babies alive.
'This is what we have to get across to children - the huge breadth of opportunities - we have to get them to see behind the job description.
'The whole idea of NHS Open Week was to take the hospital to the community, to give children an idea of what they can offer to the NHS and what the NHS can offer to them.'
More than 40 different NHS professions, from arts therapy to paramedics, will attend three regional events at Carmarthen Leisure Centre, Llandrillo College, Rhos-on-Sea and at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, this week in an attempt to inspire some 3,000 GCSE students to start thinking of a career in the NHS.
In addition individual hospitals around the country will open their doors to local schools, to give them an insight into how a hospital works - information about local events is available from www.wales.nhs.uk/careers.
Martin Allen, director of commercial services for North Glamorgan NHS Trust, said targeting schoolchildren early was key to increasing recruitment in the future - one of the strategies his trust is adopting is to talk to schools and encourage pupils to understand exactly what working in the NHS means.
Mrs Russell said, 'We have an opportunity here to say to these students that if they study in a certain direction, this is what we, the NHS, can offer them in return.
'When I think of my own children, more and more companies are going into schools to get children thinking about what qualifications they need for a job.
'We have lost these children by the time they are employed - they aren't going to want to go back and retrain on a bursary of pounds 5,000 when they are older.
'We have to get them now. We have to get them thinking about what they really want to do - at the end of the day there are jobs in the NHS and we will tell them the qualifications they need to get one of those jobs.
'The NHS is a big business, like a bank of people, and every one of them, whether they are a gardener or caterer, a dietician or a domestic, has a key to play in making the organisation a professional organisation.'
NHS Open Week will be officially launched by Health Minister Jane Hutt and Educa- tion Minister Jane Davidson today at Carmarthen Leisure Centre, along with former Olympic athlete Jamie Baulch and Gwyn Jones, a former rugby international and sports commentator, who works in the bio-chemistry department at the University Hospital of Wales, in Cardiff.
Jamie will also be at Llandrillo College on Wednesday and First Minister Rhodri Morgan will be at the Millennium Stadium NHS Open Week on Friday to meet school children and NHS staff. Name: Osian Powell
WHERE DO YOU LIVE? Aberystwyth but I do move around a bit
JOB TITLE: Graduate management trainee, Ceredigion and Mid Wales NHS Trust
TIME IN JOB: Eight months
SALARY: pounds 18,000
IS THIS YOUR DREAM JOB? Since it now seems unlikely that I will become a professional rugby player or a Ferrari test driver I would say yes. As it is one of the most complex organisations in Britain, if not the world, I have a genuine fascination with the way the NHS operates, the services it provides and the challenges faced by the need for major change while inevitably being a politically driven organisation. With such an interest I am one of a few lucky people who can actually say I love my job. In my current role I have the opportunity to gain an insight into the whole range of different organisations in the NHS and get a broad mix of working both in a business environment but with the incentive of ultimately making a difference to people's lives.
HOW DID YOU GET THE JOB? On the NHS Wales web-site, then through two assessment centres.
DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO WORK IN THE NHS? I worked as a hospital porter during the summer holidays while at university where I first learned of some of the complexities involved in running a hospital. Since then I've always thought that the NHS would be an interesting place to work and given the diversity of career options I decided to look further into what was on offer.
HIGH POINTS OF THE JOB? If I had to single out one it would be that of encountering and overcoming a different challenge every day in an environment which, as I've said, interests me immensely. Additionally I am able to use individual initiative while working very much as part of a team. All of this, of course, is with the knowledge that everything you do is, or should be for the benefit of the patient by improving the care provided.
LOW POINTS OF THE JOB? As a management trainee I am still very much new to the service, which simply means I still have a lot more to learn before I can really start to fulfil my role as a leader in the NHS.
CAREER PROSPECTS At the moment my long-term aim is to be in the best position to be able to influence the way the NHS operates; to make the greatest difference to the greatest number of people's lives as possible. Therefore I hope to work my way through a number of management positions with the ultimate goal of becoming a chief executive within the NHS. Major opportunities: The nhs is the largest employer in Wales and offers more than 200 career opportunities, in jobs ranging from pharmacists to paramedics, and gynaecologists to health promotion staff.
Each has its own unique educational requirements and offers a varied form of on-the-job training:
Catering services - staff are responsible for providing nutritious food required by patients - to aid recovery - and by staff. Managers will need a degree, HND/BTEC or equivalent HCIMA qualification or practical experience of catering services. Work is available at all levels and differing levels of experience are welcomed. Training at work is available and for managers a hotel services development programme is available;
Clinical engineer - applies the principles of engineering to patient diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation. The main aspects of the job involve the design of specialised equipment and the investigation of human mechanical and electrical function. Applicants need to have attained a degree and the NHS supports continuing study at Masters and PhD level.
Medical illustrator/medical photographers - provide a wide range of photographic services to both those who care for patients and specialists working in medical and par-medical areas. They will work closely with scientists, doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Applicants usually need a degree, HND or equivalent in photography, graphic design or video, although an accreditation scheme for applicants without these qualifications is available. In-service training leading to a BSC in Medical Illustration or a one-year distance learning course for appropriately qualified staff is available, leading to a Medical Illustrator's post-experience certificate;
Prosthetists - provide care and advice on the rehabilitation for patients who have lost, or were born without, a limb, fitting the best possible artificial replacement. Applicants need A-Levels or equivalent for entry to a degree.
Stores staff - look after the collection and delivery of stores to various wards and departments and general stocktaking. Many jobs require few qualifications, while more professional posts may require additional professional qualifications. In-service training is provided. Help with the costs of studying is available for many within the NHS: The nhs provides means-tested bursaries for students taking a university course leading to a job within the health service, to help offset the considerable costs of studying.
Means-tested bursaries are available to students in Wales on courses leading to a qualifications as an audiologist, cardiac physiologist, chiropodist or podiatrist, clinical physiologist in respiratory or medical physics, a dental hygienist or dental therapist, dietician, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, radiographer or a speech or language therapist.
Students training to be a doctor or dentist will also be eligible for an NHS bursary during the later stages of their courses and for those studying orthoptics, prosthetics and orthotics courses outside Wales, bursaries are also available.
Nursing and midwifery students offered a place will be offered a non-means tested bursary of pounds 5,695. Dependants' allowances and single parent allowances are also available. Trainee paramedics are paid a salary.
For more information about bursaries and financial support contact the NHS Wales Student Awards Unit at Health Professions Wales on 029 2026 1495.