Melber Flinn

Melber Flinn review of 2020


Its the latest Melber Flinn blog, but this month I’ve put my feet up as my colleague Mel brings you our review of 2020.

It isn’t very often you will find me publishing a blog for Melber Flinn. In fact, this is only the second blog I have written. So, what has changed and why are you all getting the privilege of a blog from Mel today? The truth in the matter is that I am writing one to prove a point to Mr Melber. In 2019 it became apparent Steve had lost his mojo for writing blogs (2 in 12 months to be precise). So, at the start of 2020 Steve committed to writing one blog every month. When we sat down at the end of October 2020 for our quarter 3 review it was apparent Steve was lagging behind this target so as a way to entice him to get writing again, I committed to doing one. And here it is, albeit slightly later than I originally intended (and yes, Steve and Rachel will both beat me up about this now).

I’ve thought long and hard about what to cover. Steve is actually a bit of a pro when it comes to writing these and I certainly do not profess to be. He is the expert on IR35, so I certainly won’t be providing insight into this subject. I don’t run marathons, my only personal best in recent years is the number of bottles of craft gin I’ve drank my way through. An obvious choice was COVID however let’s be honest, I think we would all like a little bit of an escape from reading about this right? So instead, I thought I would provide you with a summary of our performance last year and some of the key recruitment trends we saw in 2020 (okay so maybe COVID will feature in this slightly). Hopefully this will give you an insight into how we saw the market and potentially what may happen in 2021.

One of our key metrics is how many requirements we deal with, and of course it is a direct reflection of market demand. It’s fair to say requirement activity in 2020 for us came in peaks and troughs. The first couple of months were unexpectedly slow. We didn’t see the usual seasonal demand within ED and winter resilience which typically dominates January to March, and other areas seemed slower than usual too. Then came March and the world changed forever. Not surprisingly the market quickly shifted and we became exceptionally busy as the NHS sought to face the biggest challenge in its history. During quarter 1 (Apr-June) we registered 32% more roles compared to the same period in 2019. A similar thing happened at the back end of the year; as infection rates and hospital admissions rose again in wave 2, we saw 42% increase in roles registered in quarter 3 (Oct-Dec) of 2020 versus quarter 3 the previous year. Despite the surges we did have periods where our pipeline reduced; particularly in late spring when ‘emergency style’ roles became less prevalent, BAU roles were non-existent; and we weren’t yet seeing the emergence of elective recovery work which we were expecting. Despite this, across all of 2020 we experienced a 24% increase in roles registered with the business compared to 2019. Of course, Covid-19 made us busier and many of the roles were either directly or indirectly related to the virus. However, we also attribute part of this rise to Rachel Silverwood’s change in role. Since 2017 Rachel had been focusing on the commissioning and system change markets. But we found a decline in senior requirements in system entities as many positions were being filled by managers displaced from CCG consolidation. So from the autumn of 2019 Rachel expanded her remit to cover all corporate functions on the provider side, working alongside Steve who has continued to focus on recruiting into operational and quality roles which have historically been where we have the highest demand for interim resource. As a result of this shift in focus, Rachel has strengthened current relationships and developed new relationships across corporate functions, which has led to this increase in requirements in project and programme management as well as HR, estates and even IT.

Despite the large rise in the number of roles registered in 2020 vs 2019 the number of requirements we actually filled remained relatively flat. In fact, we actually placed 1 interim less in 2020 compared to 2019. Why is this I hear you ask? We evaluate our performance on a monthly and quarterly basis and reviewing the outcome of “lost” roles ensures we are constantly learning, and refining and tweaking our processes to hopefully keep improving our conversion rate going forward. Despite this, last year the number of roles we had to retire due to the fact we didn’t have any suitable candidates to present had doubled from 2019. I’m fully aware this doesn’t paint a great picture of our ability to find the right people for our clients, but I can assure you there are valid reasons. Through the Covid peaks, we experienced a surge of requests for operational managers specifically with expertise in medicine and emergency care as well as patient flow and senior nursing professionals. The demand simply outweighed supply. Many interims were tied into lengthy contracts so lack of availability was a huge problem. Additionally, because we were finding ourselves in a candidate driven market this meant interims could be a lot more selective over which roles they wanted to pursue. Why have your CV put forward for a role inside IR35 and working 200 miles away from home when you know a more lucrative opportunity maybe just around the corner? And the convenience, comfort and cost implications of working remotely made on-site roles a lot less appealing for many candidates, again resulting in interims deciding not to have their details to submitted to roles. I believe Steve is going to expand on this subject in his next blog so watch this space.

We also saw a change in the composition of roles coming through. As requirements within operations, senior nursing, clinical governance, HR and IT increased we also saw a corresponding dip in other areas, most notable being CIP. Over the past 10 years the market has always been fairly buoyant for interims who specialise in CIP and financial efficiencies. However since NHS England announced in March last year financial targets and the tariff payment system were to be suspended, the need to bring in additional support in these areas dropped off. In fact, we saw 43% decline in CIP/financial recovery roles in comparison to 2019. Similarly, when all non-emergency elective procedures and outpatients appointments were cancelled for three months we saw all our work in this area cancelled overnight. Over the summer months we started to get requests for interims who could support with elective recovery work however as the second wave of the pandemic emerged in the autumn that demand quickly ebbed away. As a team, collectively we have over 30 years’ experience recruiting interims for the NHS so you would think during that time we might have recruited to all types of roles? But last year we saw roles coming through that we had never previously seen, such as a Bereavement Officer, Health and Wellbeing Consultants, EPRR Managers as well as Programme Directors/Programme Managers to help set up and run wide scales initiatives such as Test and Trace and vaccination roll outs.

2020 changed the way many businesses work. Most of you will know when Melber Flinn was established in 2015, Steve decided against setting up an office and instead wanted us all to work from home. I like to think over the years we have all become Jedi Knights in developing successful strategies to ensure we maximise our productivity levels from the comfort of our own homes. Due to the pandemic, the Government asked everyone who could work from home to do so. For many employees this experience is not only new but can be dreaded. Not for us right? We are well versed in this practice and would plough through as per normal. Well, that wasn’t quite the case as most of our team were faced with the daunting reality of having to juggle work commitments with childcare or home schooling. This has been an unexpected challenge with bumps and tears (from both parents and children) along the way. However, we overcame these challenges by continuing to work together as a team to cover workload whilst tending to our young ones. I feel fortunate to work for a company that has been flexible and supportive during lockdowns in order for me to balance working life and childcare. Rachel and Steve also saw another fundamental change to the way they work, which was being unable to meet with candidates and clients. Ahead of the first national lockdown, at the end of February 2020 they took the decision to cancel all scheduled meetings. Little did they know they wouldn’t attend face to face meetings for the remainders of the year and beyond. Not only is meeting people and developing relationships one of the cornerstones of recruitment; it is also one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job. So to have that part of their roles taken away has been a big deal. Before all this happened, I suspect if you had asked them both what effect not attending meetings would have on business their answer may have been ‘catastrophic’. However not only have we been able to maintain relationships with existing clients but we have also developed relationships with new ones during this period. And as mentioned earlier we saw a 24% rise in roles in 2020, which we never would have imagined possible without the business development effect of meetings. It helps we are all on a level playing field with our competition who have also not been able to attend meetings, but I believe it is also testament to the quality of service we provide that we have maintained existing relationships and developed new ones.

And so onto 2021. We’ve started the year positively with many new starters beginning assignments in January and February. Our pipeline is strong and we hope to continue building on this over the coming weeks. So far, we’ve seen a similar pattern emerging from last year in that the bulk of requests so far have been across operations, clinical governance, nursing, HR, IT and project management. We anticipate as the spread of the virus slows and the vaccination programme continues to successfully immunise the public the NHS will slowly start to return to ‘business as usual’. We expect to see a renewed focus on financial management, a return of CQC compliance (although probably with changes in the inspection regime), waiting lists and elective recovery activity not to mention the legislative change announced only a couple of weeks ago. We expect interims with experience in all of these areas will see improved demand. We also really hope that with the easing of restrictions announced last night Rachel and Steve will soon be able to meet up with so many of the people they were unable to see last year. When that does happen expect a call from them and make sure they take you for a beer and not a coffee!!

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