As well as providing 24-hour emergency cover by qualified nurses, this year’s top company, Ambition Recruitment, offers training. According to its co-founder, Penny Streeter: ‘Nearly 300 people we have trained as care assistants are now training to be nurses.’ The company, based in southwest London, specialises in providing emergency, or ‘spot’, cover – for example, when a nurse calls in sick. Many nurses on its books are already NHS staff. They take extra shifts to supplement their incomes. Ambition, founded in 1996, places several thousand nurses each week in NHS hospitals, public and private nursing homes, and even prisons. Streeter claims that Ambition is a ‘real 24-hour company. We provide the same service at 3am as at noon. If a nursing home can get pizza delivered in the middle of the night, it should be able to get an emergency-cover nurse, too.’ She is keen to underline Ambition’s commitment: ‘Our system has been down for only 10 minutes in six years and that was when we moved offices.’ Zimbabwe-born Streeter came to Britain in 1979 at the age of 12 and started work in recruitment after leaving school. In 1989 she launched her own firm in Croydon. It didn’t last long. ‘I made all the usual mistakes,’ says Streeter. After a couple of years in other people’s recruitment businesses, she tried again in 1995 with a new venture – funded by evenings moonlighting as a children’s party entertainer. But when she realised she was in the wrong sector, her mother, Marion Hewson, advised her to concentrate on nursing, and the two of them started Ambition. Initially, they ran their operation from a small shop. During the day, they would register nurses and assign shifts. In the evening they would clear away the desks and run training courses. ‘We got a lot of funny looks through the shop windows,’ says Streeter. The firm’s client base, initially just small local nursing and care homes, quickly expanded and Ambition soon had five London offices. When asked how she achieved all this despite having had her fourth child just 18 months ago, Streeter is blasé. ‘I’m a workaholic and I live close to the office,’ she says. Ambition’s sales have soared 256% a year from £627,000 in 1998 to £28.3m in 2001, when it had 56 staff. The company forecasts sales of £50m this year. Its sales are measured by the salaries of all the nurses it places.
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