It's that time of the year when depressing stories about the crisis in the NHS are a staple of headlines and news broadcasts. Most of the media stories are the consequence of chronic skills shortages in NHS trusts, such as the trust reported to the Health and Safety Commission last week for failing to implement the Working Time directive. The latest report on the rise in violence against frontline staff is a symptom of an over-stretched and under-resourced service.
The Government's promise of an extra 36,000 staff is welcome but it will be some years before trained staff can come on line, and NHS cash in the past has tended to get absorbed into propping up the existing service.
Meanwhile, the challenge facing HR professionals in the health service is a daunting one. Apart from the recruitment and retention problem, HR has a key role to play in implementing new performance measures, following a series of health care scandals. However, there are signs that the health service is rising to the occasion. Many trusts have led the way for employers as a whole in recruiting staff, mostly nurses, from overseas.
Last year a plan for an NHS-wide on-line recruitment service was announced. And last week Andrew Foster, NHS Confederation policy director for HR, outlined proposals for a skills escalator where existing staff can be trained in new skills. He even suggested a hospital porter could work his way up to become a consultant an ambitious agenda given the traditional strict lines of demarcation in the medical profession.
And before you laugh, it is worth noting that one porter has risen to the role of chief executive. The NHS does not have a good reputation as a place to work, and HR professionals have a long way to go to put that right. But a willingness to follow Foster's lead and be innovative could help solve the problem.