Plymouth-based Nightingale Healthcare Solutions Ltd, a once-thriving agency providing nursing staff to care homes, has recently declared bankruptcy, attributing the profound impact of Brexit, the ongoing challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, and fierce competition in the market. The four-year-old company, which had its offices on Mutley Plain, officially entered liquidation at the close of 2023, leaving debts of nearly £1 million and approximately 100 employees grappling with the sudden closure.
According to Robert Evans, the director of the company, Nightingale Healthcare Solutions faced an uphill battle as the healthcare landscape underwent significant transformations. “Covid was a major one,” explained Evans. “As care homes closed their doors to protect their residents, our agency, like many others, experienced a prolonged period of adversity. Additionally, Brexit played a significant role, impacting our workforce as a considerable number of our employees hailed from European countries. Post-Brexit, the pool of available applicants dwindled significantly.”
The agency specialized in supplying healthcare assistants and registered nurses to care and nursing homes across the region. An ambitious attempt to expand into Cornwall, however, became a substantial drain on resources due to the unique challenges posed by the remote locations and the dispersed nature of staff. Evans elucidated, “Our business model, which relied heavily on providing transportation to staff, was not conducive to Cornwall, where the staff lived remotely, making transportation a logistical nightmare.”
Nightingale Healthcare Solutions took on a lease for an office in Truro, Cornwall, but the shortage of staff in the broader South West region made the Cornwall branch financially burdensome. The company struggled to find suitable domiciliary care managers, leading to a succession of ineffective managers from within the healthcare sector. Despite initial difficulties, the homecare department eventually gained traction and started supporting itself, only to face another setback when the manager left, resulting in a reduction in clients and income.
Adding to Nightingale Healthcare Solutions’ challenges was the intensification of competition from rival agencies. Changes in regulations surrounding overseas staff further complicated matters. Evans explained, “The new Government sponsorship of foreign workers scheme provided care homes with an alternative solution to their staffing issues. Additionally, there has been a surge in new agencies entering the market, causing saturation and subsequently driving down charge rates. This made it increasingly difficult for us to afford the transportation costs necessary to reach the homes in need.”
The final blow came when the company faced mounting financial pressure, a substantial tax bill of £628,000, and unsecured creditors with claims totalling £171,000. Among the creditors are Starling Bank, claiming £30,000, Xerox Finance seeking £45,991, and E-Capital Commercial Finance Ltd with a claim for £158,955.
Despite the dire situation, Evans and his partner, Shiralee Wotton, took proactive steps to mitigate the impact on their workforce. The couple’s daughter, Trinity Wotton, spearheaded the establishment of a new company called Time4Care Recruitment Ltd, located at Mutley Plain, with the goal of salvaging as many jobs as possible. Evans emphasized, “None of our agency workers went unpaid during the transition. I have worked for Time4Care temporarily to assist her in setting up and establishing, but I’m now moving on to find other work to reduce costs, as the industry is still very challenging.”
Documents filed at Companies House indicate that assets of £35,500 are expected to be liquidated. This sum will be directed towards paying wages and holiday pay owed to four workers, as well as contributing to the substantial tax bill. Unfortunately, unsecured creditors with claims totalling £171,000 are unlikely to receive any pay outs due to the lack of available funds.
Nightingale Healthcare Solutions Ltd’s demise underscores the complex challenges faced by businesses in the healthcare staffing sector, accentuated by the confluence of Brexit, the enduring Covid-19 pandemic, and a fiercely competitive market. The closure has not only left a significant financial void but has also disrupted the lives and livelihoods of 100 workers who now find themselves seeking new employment opportunities in an uncertain job market.