Melber Flinn

Will your own blood do?


Steve Melber, busy and lazy

It’s been a while since I wrote a market update, due to a devastatingly effective paradox of business and laziness. We’ve all been there I think.

As it’s been a while, I thought I’d write a quick summary of the NHS interim market for 2023 so far.

The best way to precis 2023 – for reasons that will soon become alarmingly apparent – is to first discuss 2022.

2022 was a very busy year in the NHS interim market. We know this because we measure two key business metrics at Melber Flinn: number of requirements registered and number of placements made. 2022 saw the highest numbers on record in our business since we began over eight years ago. And it was busy because we still had the tail end of a pandemic, a bit elective recovery agenda, the creation of ICBs, and the magic ingredient – plenty of money.

Indeed, before founding Melber Flinn in 2015 I spent 5 years prior to that recruiting interims for the NHS at another interim management business. Comparing business metrics between those two companies is slightly difficult (akin to comparing braeburns with pink ladies perhaps) but 2022 certainly felt like the busiest year of the previous 13.

Perhaps because of my ridiculously long commitment to recruiting interim managers for the NHS, Melber Flinn maintains a fairly constant conversion rate of enquiries to placements. So more requirements coming through equate to a higher number of placements, which we can obviously monitor from our financial analysis.

We were bullish about 2023, and frankly my forecasts assumed a continuation of 2022 market conditions, so the sudden slowdown did come as a bit of a shock.

I can almost date when it turned, I think about 3:17pm on Thursday 16th February 2023, give or take.

In short, February 2023 showed a sudden drop in the number of requirements coming through, which of course is our measure of market demand, and for every month since we have seen between a 25% and 80% reduction in roles compared to the same month in 2022.

Unless we have suddenly alienated every single client we know in our sleep, the reason for the slowdown is clear: the return of strong financial controls post-Covid has stifled demand.

Speaking to clients we are finding no shortage of latent demand, but most hiring managers have their hands tied by recruitment freezes, double locks, triple locks and requirements to sign business cases submissions in someone else’s blood.

I jest of course about the last condition – their own blood is fine – but getting permission to hire temporary staff in 2023 is a tougher ask than Liz Truss’s ghost writer must have had for her new book.

And what does this mean for clients and candidates?

For clients we have a buyer’s market, but of course that is not much use to you if you can’t secure permission to recruit.

For candidates, there are still opportunities but they are not as plentiful as previous times. As demand remains suppressed, the overall proportion of interims who are available slowly increases – which increases competition for roles and weakens rates.

But summer is over, autumn is here and an election looms – some good reasons to hope that current market conditions might start to ease soon enough.

We have seven interims starting roles in September, which is encouraging as we were averaging about 7 placements a month in 2022. I’d hesitate to say the market has turned, as you will have good and bad months in any market, but if we can place a similar number in October and November I think I’d be inclined to call that a trend instead of a blip.

I plan on writing / sending some kind of article once a month until I fall back into bad old habits, but until then do feel free to reach out to discuss the market and reminisce of brighter times.

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