- 17 April 2020
- 8 min read
How Covid-19 is changing the way we recruit healthcare workers in Ireland
Ken Cowley, founder of recruitment firm Cowley Brown, explains how he navigated the first few weeks of the Covid19 Pandemic, and what the future holds for healthcare in Ireland.
Topics covered in this article
What changes have you made as a result of Covid-19?
My sister in law is a nurse in northern Italy, so sadly I have heard at first hand how Covid-19 might affect Ireland, and as a result how it might affect our agency.
Therefore, we started planning early, and the first thing we did was assess which aspects of our business we would lose and which we might keep.
Immediately we tried to get any non-healthcare offers or roles closed off and then focus on sourcing for our Irish hospital clients.
With regard to the non-healthcare roles the best I can say is we had mixed results, and indeed once the first stage of the Irish lockdown was announced virtually all of that business went out the window, at least for now.
We also lost a couple of healthcare placements because of doctors who could not travel due to Covid-19.
Has Coronavirus changed the types of jobs you're seeing coming through?
In many ways our day to day work has become more simple.
We have had to focus solely on roles which we believed will be in demand for the crisis.
These include doctors and nurses in Emergency Medicine, Respiratory, ICU and General Medicine.
The problem has been where to find these candidates!
Obviously, we are not taking candidates from the frontline of one hospital to another, not even from another country, as this would be unfair in the context of a major humanitarian crisis.
However, I can report one exception – we are hoping to place one doctor from the Canary Islands, which is a region of Spain much less affected by Covid-19 than mainland Spain.
Are the nurses and doctors you're talking to anxious about the PPE available and other infection controls in place?
My admiration for the doctors and nurses we are talking to has gone up no end in recent weeks.
I have to say that virtually none of them have raised with me the issue of PPE or Infection Controls, they are very bravely going straight to work and trusting that they will be looked after, despite well publicised issues around PPE.
I am struck by the fact that it seems their only priority is for the welfare of their patients.
Heroes, all of them!
What further changes do you expect to see over the next few months?
We are getting some interviews in the specialties mentioned above and being a small agency and therefore not requiring a massive number of monthly placements, we certainly intend to survive.
We are also working on our pipeline, because sooner or later the hospitals will again require new candidates for the non-covid related specialties.
Indeed, there may well be a fresh crisis in those specialties, because right now most elective procedures across the Irish health system have been cancelled eg in Orthopaedics, Cardiology, Gastroenterology etc.
Also, we continue our general work of resourcing the usual ‘hard to find’ candidate profiles, such as Radiology & Psychiatry, and seeking NCHD candidates for the July rotation.
We are also fervently hoping, as is the entire country, that Ireland remains ahead of the curve, and we do not have the sorts of numbers of deaths that sadly, our neighbours in UK have had in the last 2 weeks, and as previously also seen in Spain and Italy.
We also badly want to see our economy open up again, our children go back to school, and the trauma of isolation and lockdown come to an end.
However, public health must come first, and polls show that a high percentage of the Irish population trusts what our government and chief medical officer are implementing.
If, as hoped, this wave of the Covid-19 crisis comes under control, we predict a gradual reduction in the resources given over to ICU and to respiratory treatments, and a slow return to normal hospital life, as well as a slow phased return to normal day to day life for the whole country.
What advice would you give to candidates who might be considering a career move right now?
I think right now is not a good time to change. And there is not much non-covid related hiring happening anyway.
It is however, a good time to have a serious think about the future.
Would you like a change of scene, a change of specialty, a change of hospital?
Also, are you happy with the level of risk in your job?
Had you ever really considered Risk before?
You need to do what is right for you, and right for your family.
Could you talk about differences now in place in terms of recruitment needs between the HSE and the private sector?
Yes, it is worth pointing out that the situation in Ireland has been temporarily dramatically altered by the near ‘take-over’ of the private hospital system by the HSE.
In theory this is just for the period of April to June and it will be interesting to see if things go back to normal for private medicine immediately after that.
Naturally, this has an impact on our own business, as we work in both sectors, so we are keeping a close eye on this situation.
Do you think this could change the way we hire even after the Coronavirus crisis has passed?
I think there will be several long term impacts, and of course these impacts will vary depending on whether you are a large or small agency, how well established you are, are you temp, perm, or fixed-term contracts, and what is your cost base.
I believe national healthcare systems will be very conscious of maintaining a strong plan in place for dealing with future waves of Covid-10 and other future pandemics.
This may lead to future strong emphasis on hiring of staff in Infectious Diseases, Respiratory, ICU and other specialties.
But to ask a bigger question, in terms of the agencies – will the Covid-19 crisis ultimately have a positive or negative impact on agency success in healthcare?
Its hard to say.
And while the fact that 72,000 candidates applied directly to the HSE call to action could suggest that the HSE could become more pro-active with its own recruitment, it’s also true to say that a good healthcare agency will always bring some ‘value-add’ to the table, and will usually know how to find those very ‘hard to find’ candidates, AND how to engage with them and encourage them to consider working (or returning to) Ireland.
So I do think the future is still positive?
Worldwide there is still a big shortage of doctors and nurses.
But now is the time for healthcare agencies to really look at their futures, crunch their numbers and make an honest and realistic 2-part plan, the first part for current survival and the second for post-Covid.
Also, get any help you need, including the new government supports and from the NRF, keep talking to your team, and we can all get through this together, one way or another.
We'd like to just say thanks to Ken for this article. As you've read, he heads up Cowley Brown. You can view their job on this site.