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Statement from Priory Group CEO, Dr André Schmidt

Following completion of the acquisition by Waterland in January 2021, I am delighted to have become Priory Group CEO on 12 July, 2021. The Priory Group is a world-class leader in the provision of mental health services, and we can now build a strong pan-European platform to meet increasing demand. 

This is a longer-term vision, and will take time to implement. But, in the short-term, there is work to be done in addressing some structural issues, not least the challenge of finding the right staff with the right skills to deliver high-quality services at all our care homes and hospitals 24/7.  We need to be honest that, in some areas and at some sites, we continue to struggle to recruit and retain nurses, therapists, care assistants and support workers.

Agency workers bridge the gap where needed, but the wider issues in relation to recruitment, which are common across the healthcare sector, especially mental healthcare, have been further compounded by the pandemic, and the introduction of IR35. This has meant that sourcing long-term and temporary agency staff has become very challenging in some areas, and, on some wards, we have had to limit capacity in the short-term.

We also need to acknowledge that commissioners refer some of the most challenging, and mentally unwell, patients in the country to us, and that patient outcomes are vastly improved where patients are able to build established relationships with staff they know and trust. 

So, for now, our focus is on taking measures to ensure our existing hospitals can flourish and prosper, by empowering site leadership to take proactive steps to improve the staffing position.  We have already put in place the following measures to achieve this and are confident that these will significantly improve our ability to recruit and retain more permanent staff:-

  • We have significantly accelerated our recruitment both in the UK and from abroad by creating bespoke career pathways and innovative new nursing roles
  • We have redesigned and enhanced our employment packages, including offering welcome bonuses for many staff in key areas
  • We are reviewing our pay, benefits and rewards across mental health roles, and promoting flexible working practices
  • We have more than 140 colleagues currently on registered nurse training programmes across the UK
  • We have spent £5 million on apprenticeship development since 2018, and committed a further £4 million to ongoing apprenticeship training. Of that, £3.5 million is committed specifically to nurse apprenticeships
  • In September 2021, Priory joined the University of Bolton in launching the Priory School of Nursing initiative - one among many such initiatives which we plan to expand further in the Midlands and North of England – with the aim of sponsoring 45 places a year for health care assistants to become fully registered nurses. This year, 32 HCAs began a BSc (Hons) Nursing (Mental Health) Degree Apprenticeship programme via the University of Bolton partnership, with two Priory nurses teaching part-time at the university for the next three years

Of course, recruiting and training new staff takes time, but we expect to be able to show real progress before the end of this year, and our aim is to have fully-staffed, sustainable services at all our sites within the next six months.  Overall, with ‘good’ or better ratings at 85%, Priory healthcare facilities still outperform national benchmarks, which is encouraging. But we recognise we need to deal proactively, and swiftly, with some sites which face significant staffing challenges.

In parallel with our recruitment and retention initiatives, we are carrying out a site-by-site review of the Priory healthcare portfolio to ascertain which facilities deliver the services commissioners and others need, and which require re-positioning to meet local demand. This may result in the consolidation of services at some sites, particularly where we cannot recruit the right staff. 

We will, of course, consult with commissioners as we carry out this review, and discuss with them how to take services forward so patients’ needs are met.  This review will also enable us to ensure that capital expenditure is appropriately allocated, and we are making the right, longer-term investment across our facilities. To help support our overall ambition, MEDIAN plans to invest €50 million (£42.8 million) annually over the next three years to develop Priory’s IT services and real estate which will help create Europe’s leading rehabilitation and mental health services provider.

Meanwhile, our Adult Care sites continue to perform strongly, with more than 90% rated ‘good’ or better, and we look forward to investing further in specialist residential services in the UK, so we can improve outcomes for those in our Adult Care services. As in healthcare, adult care, with other social care providers nationally, also faces staffing challenges, but we are mitigating this by offering attractive career pathways and strong support in teams.

Since the easing of lockdown restrictions, I have visited a number of Priory facilities, and I have been impressed by the skill and dedication of our psychiatrists, nurses, therapists, support workers and care assistants, especially during this time of Covid-19. We will continue to assess our services to ensure we deliver significant quality to patients and service users. We have a strategy in place to get to where we need to be, and actions to show we are on our way, and we will continue to embrace the leading role we play in delivering quality mental healthcare to those who need it.

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