One of the great themes of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the importance of protecting the NHS.

But, as vital as it may be, it is an organisation which faces massive challenges when it comes to finding staff.

The NHS spends a huge £3.2bn on temporary agency staff each year and has suffered from a perennial shortage of nurses.

However, an expanding Carlisle business has been working with some of the 223 NHS trusts around the country to help solve their staffing problems.

Established in 2016, Just R, in Spencer Street, has helped over 40 NHS Trusts and healthcare organisations with challenges big and small, from transforming their recruitment function to hiring hard-to-fill roles using approaches which have saved it millions according to founder Rachael Bagshaw.

“Since the NHS was created in 1948, it’s never had enough nurses and there’s been an overreliance on students to solve the problem,” says Rachael.

“Seventy years on the problem and the nursing shortfall is the same, around 38,000 nurses are urgently needed. If the NHS doesn’t act now to make key changes to the way it operates, the situation will get worse. By 2030 the NHS will need 250,000 new staff and the world will need six million new nurses.”

Before starting the company Rachael worked as an advertising account manager at Global Radio, where she specialised in working with research companies which were appealing for people to take part in clinical trials.

“I had in my head that I could become a consultant who helped clinical research organisations plan their advertising campaigns in a smarter way,” she says.

However, when a contact began working for the NHS she was asked to deliver a recruitment project for the organisation.

“I veered off the clinical research path and got really interested in understanding the problem. I like to understand things and solve problems and I had found a gigantic one.”

Just R’s team, which contains a mixture of skills covering digital specialists, designers, marketers, content creators, project managers and HR specialists, has doubled in size in the last year - from six to 12. Rachael expects the business to take on 10 more staff each year, over the next five years, as it develops longer term strategic partnerships with the NHS.

“It didn’t make sense how they recruit,” says Rachael.

“There is a huge percentage who are not employed directly by the NHS and are from temporary agencies.

“The majority of NHS trusts are doing very little to recruit passive job seekers, they continue to do the same thing they have always done, placing adverts and waiting for applicants to come to them.

“As the competition for nurses grows and grows you are never going to solve staffing challenges by doing the same thing you’ve always done.

“It’s about enabling them to forward think about how they are going to attract people to the organisation rather than waiting for them to come to you.”

Just R’s work includes addressing a shortage of nurses in London and saving the NHS around £960,000 by recruiting 106 nurses in East Anglia. The team has also helped to fill 300 positions at a new laboratory in Bracknell used for Covid-19 testing.

In addition, it has been working with Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust on a campaign to attract healthcare support workers.

Rachael says usually an advert for the positions would trigger a flood of applications, with the trust then spending days going through them and carrying out interviews, only to find the quality of applicants did not meet the required standard.

“We developed a campaign that focused on values rather than qualifications and it was all about reaching out to people who had been potentially displaced by the pandemic who had perhaps worked in leisure or hospitality but were really kind and caring individuals and we made them aware of the opportunities,” she says.

“This approach enabled them to reach out to a whole new audience.”

Just R developed content and social media campaigns to promote the drive, as well as using its own online screening tool and candidate consultants to call candidates and speak with them.

“Only candidates who pass the value-based screening were given the application link to apply to the trust,” says Rachael.

This helped reduce the time the trust spent on interviews and boost the quality of the candidates.

Rachael says the NHS has been running big recruitment drives during the pandemic, although these have not been done in the most efficient or effective way.

“They’ve done what they had to do to get people in to deal with what they were facing,” she says.

“As we’re coming out of it this is definitely being seen as a place to start afresh and make real solid plans for the future and we’re having some really interesting conversations about doing things better.”

The company has developed seven recommendations to help the NHS retain and grow the workforce it needs and is working with the organisation on five.

They are; the development of a strong employer value proposition and brand, values led attraction campaigns to reach out to a passive job markets, the development of a “person focused” application journey and reduced time to hire, supporting new hires during their first 12 months in post and using information about why people leave to improve attraction and retention processes.

“We are focused on long term strategic partnerships with our NHS clients, focused on achieving better together, connecting great people with great jobs and creating ever stronger organisations,” says Rachel.

“I want the NHS to continue to be the world’s healthcare employer of choice. I’m passionate about our mission and that we will be able to achieve this. And savings made can be diverted into better patient care and ultimately, save lives.”