Developing a talent management support network for nurses and midwives
Intended for healthcare professionals

Open Access Developing a talent management support network for nurses and midwives

Vinice Thomas Director of nursing and quality, NHS England (London Region), London, England

Why you should read this article:
  • To enhance your understanding of what talent is and how to identify and nurture it in your team

  • To inform your organisation’s policy around managing talent in the nursing and midwifery workforce

  • To contribute towards revalidation as part of your 35 hours of CPD (UK readers)

  • To contribute towards your professional development and local registration renewal requirements (non-UK readers)

Effective talent management is vital to retain skilled and experienced nurses and midwives in the NHS. In 2019, a group of NHS organisations in London set up a talent management support network (TMSN) aimed at helping specific groups of nurses and midwives facing challenges in fulfilling their professional potential. The network started by supporting nurses and midwives from minority ethnic backgrounds, later also offering the programme to dental nurses across England and to healthcare workers in Brazil. The network uses the power of action learning and networking in a framework that nurtures staff’s talents. This article describes the London TMSN team’s experience of setting up and running the network. It also explains how nursing and midwifery managers and leaders can create a business case for the development of a similar network in their setting.

Nursing Management. doi: 10.7748/nm.2023.e2085

Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software


Conflict of interest

None declared

Thomas V (2023) Developing a talent management support network for nurses and midwives. Nursing Management. doi: 10.7748/nm.2023.e2085


The author would like to acknowledge and thank all staff and partners who have supported the London talent management support network

Open access

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) licence (see which permits others to copy and redistribute in any medium or format, remix, transform and build on this work non-commercially, provided appropriate credit is given and any changes made indicated.

Published online: 13 June 2023

Aims and intended learning outcomes

The aim of this article is to equip nurse and midwifery managers and leaders with knowledge on how to manage talent in their teams using an approach established by a group of NHS organisations in London to promote staff development. The article takes readers through the development of a talent management support network and explains how they can develop a similar initiative in their setting.

After reading this article and completing the time out activities you should be able to:

  • Describe some of the challenges to staff recruitment and retention in the NHS.

  • Explain the importance of nurturing the talents of nurses and midwives and supporting their professional development.

  • Determine how to develop, run, evaluate and sustain a talent management support network in your organisation.

  • Draft a business case for your future talent management support network.


Before the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, there were already major challenges in the recruitment and retention of nurses and midwives in the NHS in England, despite increased funding for recruitment initiatives designed, for example, to increase preregistration nurse training or recruit internationally (Appleby 2019, Buchan et al 2019). These challenges have been compounded by the pandemic (King’s Fund 2022). In that context, managing the talent of the nursing and midwifery workforce must, more than ever, be a priority.

Effective talent management has been shown to enhance staff morale, improve staff engagement and increase the retention of skilled and talented individuals (Pandita and Ray 2018). Applied to healthcare, effective talent management could lead to a more stable workforce and subsequently better patient experiences and outcomes. The potential benefits of effective talent management, which can also act as a catalyst for innovative practice, far exceed any financial investment required. Healthcare organisations therefore need to identify the most effective approach to talent management and develop a talent management strategy. According to Turner (2018), an effective talent management strategy requires a combination of human resources-related activities, such as recruitment and retention practices, and engagement activities with staff, executives and line managers.

Key points

  • Effective talent management could lead to a more stable workforce and subsequently better patient experiences and outcomes

  • Healthcare organisations need to identify the most effective approach to talent management and develop a talent management strategy

  • An effective talent management strategy requires a combination of human resources-related activities and engagement activities with staff, executives and line managers

  • A talent management support network modelled on the one described in this article can be used in a variety of settings to support specific staff groups to develop professionally

In 2019, a talent management support network programme was developed in London with the aim of supporting specific groups of nurses and midwives to overcome the challenges they experience in fulfilling their professional potential. The programme was designed to complement, and to some extent augment, the staff engagement and development activities already in place in some NHS organisations. It was born out of the need to create a simplified framework that would support staff’s career progression and their mental health and well-being as well as succession planning.

The London talent management support network (TMSN) was originally developed to support the professional development of black and minority ethnic nurses and midwives in the London area. It preceded the launch, in 2020, of the London Workforce Race Strategy (NHS England 2020a) whose vision is for London to be a city of choice for people from minority ethnic backgrounds who want to pursue a career in nursing or midwifery. The London TMSN programme was initially designed as a time-limited project, but continuing demand from staff meant that it was extended. In 2022 and 2023, the programme was offered and delivered to dental nurses in England and to healthcare workers in Brazil. An online platform is being developed for sharing information, resources and templates.

In this article, the author, who led the team that developed the London TMSN, shares her experience of developing the network and offers to guide other teams through the process of setting up a similar initiative.

Time Out 1

Read your organisation’s recruitment and retention policy, or its talent management policy if it has one. How are the principles in those policies applied in practice? What do you think are the barriers to workforce development and talent management in your organisation?

Talent management in the NHS

The NHS Constitution for England (Department of Health and Social Care 2021) details the values of the NHS and its commitments to patients, the public and staff. Healthcare organisations aim to improve the care, experience and health outcomes of their patients and local populations. This can only be achieved by using the expertise and talent of the entire workforce, recognising that every one of its members has a contribution to make through their unique voice, perspective and life experience. Leroy et al (2022) found that a diverse and valued team taken in its entirety is crucial for harnessing creativity and solving complex organisational challenges.

According to the NHS People Plan (NHS England 2020b), the NHS ‘must attract, develop and retain talented people from all backgrounds’; the plan also outlines the NHS’s intention to create an inclusive and compassionate work culture. Healthcare organisations have to contend with a wide range of competitors for talented healthcare workers, whether regionally or nationally (Turner 2018), and there is a risk of losing talented staff (Ott et al 2018). Talent in the NHS must therefore be recognised, protected and nurtured.

Healthcare organisations should be eager to see their staff realise their potential and develop their careers according to their aspirations, irrespective of gender, social status, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental health disabilities or ethnicity. The Turning the Tide report, published in 2020, captured some of the concerns of staff from minority ethnic backgrounds working in maternity departments (Rowland 2020). In a King’s Fund report, Ross et al (2020) stressed the need for a concerted effort to address race inequalities in the NHS as a workplace. The report acknowledged the challenges in tackling discrimination and changing the culture of organisations, emphasising the ongoing difficulties organisations experience in identifying the most effective ways of harnessing the skills of all members of their workforce (Ross et al 2020).

Each healthcare organisation should have plans in place to ensure that the values described above are applied consistently across departments. Making full use of the range of skills and expertise of staff is essential. A talent management support network modelled on the London TMSN is one initiative that organisations can include in their talent management strategy.

Combining ‘talent’ and ‘network’

The London TMSN team chose to combine the terms ‘talent’ and ‘network’ in the name of their initiative to characterise what they were aiming to create – a framework that would support the development of staff’s talents through networking.

‘Talent’ refers to a natural and/or nurtured set of abilities that are greater than those seen in one’s peers or associates (Ott et al 2018). The word is commonly used in the context of artists, for example, but it can equally be applied to a nurse or nursing student – for example, a first-year student who demonstrates a particular propensity for wound care from the outset or a nurse presenting at a conference who shows a natural aptitude for articulating ideas and presenting to a large audience. Such people should attract the attention of those who are on the lookout for talent in the NHS and should subsequently be supported to grow and develop. Challenges arise when there is no opportunity for talented staff to display their talent, so that it remains undetected and their potential remains unrealised.

In the author’s view, a ‘network’ can be described as purposeful interactions between people in a group or profession aimed at building relationships and sharing information and knowledge. Parsons (2003) emphasised the crucial role of networks in developing a successful nursing career through contacts and sharing knowledge on clinical, professional and/or educational topics. However, Meiring (2018) highlighted that the importance of networking for nurses and other healthcare professionals is not sufficiently recognised. More work is required for staff at all levels to understand the benefits of networking.

Time Out 2

Identify the networks that exist in your organisation and the wider networks your organisation is part of. Is there a network dedicated to talent management among these? If not, what might your future talent management support network do that these existing networks do not?

The London TMSN initiative

The London TMSN team chose to use action learning as its main approach to staff development activities. Action learning, originally developed by Revans (1980), enables reflective learning in a non-judgmental and facilitative environment. An action learning set (ALS) consists of a group of people, usually a maximum of eight, who regularly meet to share ideas and develop goals through problem-solving and action (James and Arnold 2022). With the help of a trained facilitator, one person in the group talks about their experience or presents a work-related issue to the other group members. Working together, the group identifies the most pertinent lessons to be learned and/or the most suitable course of action. The London TMSN team believed that the reflective approach of an ALS would enable participants to hone skills such as problem-solving, troubleshooting, questioning and acting as a ‘critical friend’.

In 2019, a first cohort of more than 100 nurses and midwives took part in a six-month programme of activities including ALS group meetings, workshops and interview practice. In 2020, the London TMSN had to interrupt its programme because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, a second cohort of around 200 nurses and midwives participated in another six-month activity programme, this time delivered online because of the pandemic. The themes that had emerged from the previous ALS group meetings were used to develop online webinars on topics such as interviewing techniques and managing difficult conversations.

In 2022, the London TMSN programme was offered to band 4 and 5 dental nurses in England with the aim of supporting them to develop their confidence and develop professionally. A group of 19 dental nurses took part, piloting the talent management support network concept for the wider dental nursing workforce.

In 2022-23, the London TMSN programme was offered to black healthcare workers – mainly nurses – in Brazil, who experience similar challenges to nurses and midwives from minority ethnic backgrounds in London. One of the facilitators was a Brazilian nurse who had taken part in the 2021 London TMSN programme and had therefore experienced its benefits first hand. Once back in Brazil, she had shared her experience with colleagues and had been asked to help set up a talent management support network programme in Porto Alegre, Brazil’s 12th largest city.

Developing a business case

Setting up and maintaining a talent management support network requires time and funding, so it is important to develop a convincing business case and present it to the relevant parties to gain support and resources. Based on the experience of the London TMSN team, the business case for a talent management support network needs to explain:

  • The drivers for change.

  • Who the network’s partners will be.

  • How facilitators will be trained and supported.

  • How the network will be organised and run.

  • How the network will be promoted.

  • How applications and participants will be managed.

  • How the initiative will be evaluated and its sustainability ensured.

Drivers for change

The drivers for change provide a rationale for setting up a talent management support network. Examples of drivers for change include new policies, workforce data on staff turnover, the outcomes of staff surveys and the strategy and vision of the organisation(s) setting up the network.

In the London TMSN, the main drivers for change were the challenges faced by nurses and midwives from minority ethnic backgrounds in London, as captured in staff surveys and Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) data. Launched in 2015, the WRES quantifies the experience of staff from minority ethnic backgrounds in the NHS (NHS England 2023). The annual mandatory submission of data by NHS trusts allows the WRES team to determine the extent of discrimination, bullying and lack of career progression based on ethnicity or race according to geographical area, employer and clinical grade. Since the first WRES report (NHS England 2016), data for London have shown that staff from minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to experience bullying and discrimination and less likely to progress in their careers than their colleagues from non-minority ethnic backgrounds. There have been improvements over the years, but further work is required in London across the nine WRES indicators.

Time Out 3

Identify drivers for change that will provide a rationale for setting up your talent management support network – for example, WRES data, Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) data, staff turnover figures in a particular specialty or the outcomes of a staff survey. Write a short paragraph about your drivers for change, which you can use in your business case

Network partners

Collaboration and partnerships are crucial to the success of a talent management support network. Before developing a new network, it is important to identify the stakeholders with whom the network will need to be co-developed and run. This will ensure that it is well supported and fit for purpose for those who have a stake in it – for example, managers who will be giving staff study time to participate in its activities. Partners can be found within the organisations involved and further afield. Partners’ roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined from the outset.

The London TMSN team met chief nurses, nurses and midwives across London to elicit their ideas and feedback, which informed the design of the network. When working on the activity programme for dental nurses, the team partnered with nurse leaders in dental nursing. When working on the activity programme for Brazilian healthcare workers, the team partnered with a local community charity in Porto Alegre to ensure Brazil’s specificities, in terms of its culture and healthcare system, would be taken into account.

Time Out 4

Create a map of partners, including people in your organisation and neighbouring organisations, with whom it will be important to interact in your talent management support network. Think of the best way to contact these potential partners to discuss setting up the network. Write a short paragraph about your future partners, which you can use in your business case

Training and supporting facilitators

The London TMSN team calculated the number of facilitators it would need according to the desired number of participants. The desired number of participants for one cohort was 50. The maximum group size in an ALS is eight people and every ALS needs one facilitator, so for 50 participants 6.25 facilitators were required. To allow for attrition and unplanned absences, the team aimed to source eight facilitators. It approached its partners and NHS trusts in the area to find people willing to take on that role. Some facilitators were NHS staff who took on the role as part of their day job while others, for example retired nurses, volunteered for the role. Where the London TMSN team had more applicants than expected, additional facilitators had to be sourced from surrounding NHS trusts.

In the experience of the London TMSN team, well trained facilitators are crucial to the effectiveness of ALSs. A trained and experienced facilitator can support the group, intervene when necessary and ensure ground rules are adhered to, therefore maintaining trust and integrity. To train its facilitators, the London TMSN team used an external education provider. If an external training provider is needed, sourcing training will require an awareness of the procurement process in the organisation.

Facilitating ALSs can be emotionally demanding, so it is important that facilitators are supported and have a mechanism through which to escalate concerns. The London TMSN team put in place monthly meetings lasting one hour where facilitators could share feedback and concerns. These meetings also gave facilitators an opportunity to share the findings from each ALS, which were then used to develop webinars. Further support for facilitators included easy access to the London TMSN team members in case of administrative issues or queries as well as coaching or mentoring if required.

It is important to make facilitators aware of the time commitment their involvement will require. In the London TMSN, facilitators had to set aside two days for initial training, one day per month over six months for the ALS group meetings, one hour per month for meetings with the team, plus additional time to prepare each ALS and undertake follow-up actions. If facilitators are not remunerated – which was the case in the London TMSN – it is important to find ways of incentivising them. Incentives may be the opportunity to enhance their knowledge and skills, inform personal reflection for their professional revalidation, develop their career and/or strengthen their own professional network.

Time Out 5

Think about how many participants you would like to attract and, with that figure in mind, calculate the number of facilitators you will need. How will you source facilitators? How will they be trained? How will you support and incentivise them? Write a short paragraph about training and supporting facilitators, which you can use in your business case

Organising and running the network

A team will need to be set up to organise and run the network. This team can include partners and must include people with project management skills and administrative skills. The network will also need a project lead and a senior responsible officer who will act as its champion. Furthermore, to ensure the network is run on time and on budget, governance arrangements will be needed; for example, there could be one committee that regularly monitors progress and an overarching committee that would hold the team to account should there be slippage in the schedule and/or budget.

The cost of a talent management support network should be kept low by using internal skills, expertise and systems whenever possible. In the London TMSN, the main expenditure was on training ALS facilitators and hiring venues for welcome and closing events. A potential hidden cost is the time commitment of facilitators. The London TMSN facilitators who were in employment were able to factor their time into their working week with agreement from their respective employers, but this may not always be possible.

The London TMSN team obtained free use of a venue for in-person meetings and sessions by negotiating with its partners. If such an arrangement is not possible, seminar rooms or offices will need to be hired. Online activities may be less costly than in-person activities, but the cost of using an online communication platform, including technical support, needs to be taken into account. Another cost to consider is that of promoting the network.

These practical aspects of organising and running a talent management support network are outlined in Table 1.

Table 1.

Practical aspects of organising and running a talent management support network

  • Who will be part of the network’s team?

  • What will be the team members’ roles and responsibilities?

  • Who will be the project lead?

  • Who will be the senior responsible officer?

  • Who will the team report to?

  • Who will hold the team to account for the timely and effective delivery of the network and its activities?

  • Will the welcome event, closing event, action learning set (ALS) sessions and meetings with ALS facilitators take place online or in person? What will be the costs involved in each case?

  • Will the facilitators need to be remunerated or compensated?

  • What will be the cost of promoting the network?

  • How long will one programme last? At what time of year will it take place?

  • What are the proposed dates for the welcome and closing events?

  • What are the proposed dates for the ALS sessions and meetings with ALS facilitators? Will they last half a day or an entire day?

  • What are the proposed dates for webinars?

Time Out 6

Use Table 1 as a checklist to write a draft of the practical aspects of organising and running your talent management support network – including team, governance, budget and schedule – that you can use in your business case

Promoting the network

The network will need to be promoted so that the targeted staff groups are aware of its existence and can apply for its activity programme. There are several ways of promoting the network including adverts, roadshows and social media posts. For designing adverts, it is advisable to work with the network’s partners as well as with the organisation’s communications team. The London TMSN team worked closely with its partners in dental nursing to ensure the advert for the dental nurses’ programme was appropriate. The advert for the Brazilian cohort was co-designed with the Brazilian partner to ensure it was culturally sensitive and was checked by translators to ensure its wording reflected the intended meaning.

The following materials will be useful for promotion:

  • An advert for the programme with the closing date and contacts for applications.

  • An application form – ideally online rather than on paper.

  • A summary of the programme, its goals and expected benefits.

The advert and application form will be useful to recruit participants, while the programme summary will be useful for external communication via press releases and social media posts. Once the promotional materials have been agreed by the organisation – which needs to ensure they align with its values and mission statement – they will need to be circulated to the targeted staff groups. This can be done through a variety of methods including: emails to senior leaders with responsibilities for the targeted staff groups; internal communication with human resources teams and departmental managers; external communication with partner organisations; and wider networking via email and social media. Here again it is advisable to work with the organisation’s communications team. Adverts may need to be circulated more than once to reach the desired number of applications.

Once the first cohort had gone through its activity programme, the London TMSN team used video testimonials from participants to promote the benefits of the programme. To incentivise applications, it is recommended that attendance certificates are offered to participants and that attendance is made to count towards CPD hours for professional revalidation.

Time Out 7

Draft a strategy for promoting your talent management support network. Will you develop and circulate an advert? Will you post on social media? Will you issue press releases? You can incorporate this draft in your business case

Managing applications and participants

A system needs to be in place to process the applications of staff wishing to enrol in the network’s activity programme. A database capturing each applicant’s name, role and contact details will be required as well as a secure place for storing their data and application form, whether this is digital or paper-based. In all cases, personal data will need to be handled according to the Data Protection Act 2018, the UK’s implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It is important that the application process includes a way of checking that the applicant has secured the agreement of their line manager for taking time off work and that a record of that agreement is retained. Occasionally, staff who had applied to the London TMSN programme were denied study time so the London TMSN team had to show their manager’s agreement.

The ALS groups will be formed using the database of applications, ensuring an appropriate mix of staff across organisations and departments. Based on the experience of the London TMSN team, it is good practice to avoid, as much as possible, placing two or more staff members from the same team or department in the same ALS group. Staff are more likely to feel comfortable and safe discussing potentially sensitive issues in a group where no one is from their team or department.

Once the groups have been formed, the next step will be to allocate an ALS facilitator to each one, taking into consideration the facilitators’ availability, level of experience and knowledge. Participants will be expected to attend all ALS group sessions and it is important that they are made aware of this. An attendance register will be kept and facilitators will raise non-justified absences with line managers.

Time Out 8

Write a short paragraph about how you are planning to manage applications, form ALS groups and check attendance at ALS sessions. You can incorporate this in your business case

Evaluating the network and ensuring its sustainability

Evaluation is important to measure the effectiveness of the initiative. An evaluation tool will need to be developed to assess participants’ levels of knowledge, confidence and skills before and after the ALSs. This could be achieved using a questionnaire survey, interviews and/or focus groups. An independent evaluation is strongly recommended as it will give credibility to the evaluation process and outcomes.

To evaluate its initiative, the London TMSN team used an online questionnaire and interviews. The evaluation showed increased levels of confidence among participants, for example in terms of leading a shift, challenging bullying or applying for promotion. Feedback from participants led to programme changes: for the first cohorts, ALS group sessions were scheduled to take place one full day per month over six months; for future cohorts, the sessions could be delivered as half days over a longer period of time, as agreed between the facilitator and the group. Furthermore, a workshop approach could be adopted for some of the sessions instead of the ALS format.

Sharing learning, for example through webinars, presentations at departmental meetings or a conference, is vital to ensure the sustainability of the initiative. Encouraging the members of each ALS group to stay in contact and continue to network, for example via social media, is crucial for long-term relationships and benefits. Sustainability can also be enhanced by maintaining close links with partners and facilitators and by giving participants the opportunity to become facilitators in future programmes. The London TMSN team found this to be an effective approach: three facilitators for its cohorts of dental nurses and Brazilian healthcare workers were previous programme participants.

Time Out 9

How will you measure the effectiveness of the initiative? How will you share learning? How will you ensure that your talent management support network is sustainable? Write a short paragraph about evaluation and sustainability which you can use in your business case


Investing in the talents of NHS nurses and midwives has long-term benefits for staff and patients. Active since 2019, the London TMSN provides a simple approach to retaining talented staff and supporting them to develop as nursing and midwifery leaders. A talent management support network modelled on the London TMSN can support specific staff groups to develop professionally and can be implemented in a variety of settings. The London TMSN team found that their network’s activities increased participants’ confidence. However, they also encountered limitations, such as a lack of protected time for staff to attend activities and participant attrition due to workload. The sustainability of such an initiative can be enhanced by sharing learning, maintaining close links with partners and facilitators and prompting participants to become facilitators for future cohorts. Managing the talent of the nursing and midwifery workforce must be a priority and a talent management support network has been found to be a simple, accessible and effective way of achieving this.

Time Out 10

Identify how developing a talent management support network applies to your practice and the requirements of your regulatory body

Time Out 11

Now that you have completed the article, reflect on your practice in this area and consider writing a reflective account:


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