staff retention crisis, NHS
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Margo Leftly, managing director of Healthier Recruitment, details a number of effective ways to address the staff retention crisis in the NHS that aren’t being taken advantage of

After the release of recent figures showing a shocking a shortage of nearly 108,000 workers, coupled with a  96% decline in EU nurses registering for work in the UK, the NHS is clearly in the midst of a staffing crisis. For the first time in history, there are now more people leaving than joining the service. This has forced Trusts to become more and more dependent upon agency locums, spending a massive £600m on them in April, May and June of 2018.

This, in turn, leads to suffering across the board, impacting continuity of care, staffing spend, and creating chaotic workplaces that make permanent staff more likely to leave and further worsen the situation. However, there are pathways Trusts can take towards boosting retention.

Strategic workforce planning

Despite claims from the NHS that progress has been made, the situation is worsening, and research from the Nuffield Trust has suggested that unfilled vacancies will skyrocket to 350,000 by 2030. Strategic workforce management, utilised in many industries, can help the NHS deploy workforces more effectively in the short term. By allowing strategists in on daily operations, areas which need immediate attention can be examined and taken care of.

However, in the long-term, it’s crucial that talent is pipelined effectively in the future to allow the NHS to meet upcoming challenges.

Mental Health

Further attention and awareness of mental health is imperative for retention. A recent Mind survey found nearly 90% of NHS primary care workers claimed to be stressed, and over 20% had developed serious mental health problems as a result of it.  With a staggering 70 million work days lost each year due to mental health challenges, Trusts would clearly benefit from more accessible mental health support in this area.


Offering training and development helps greatly with retention, with one survey suggesting 70% of workers remain in roles due to job-related training and development. Thankfully the NHS seems to have caught onto this, with leaders saying they ‘expect’ to increase investment in continuing professional development over the next five years, stating that CPD ‘has the potential to deliver a high return on investment’.

Examples of this include the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust reducing turnover by 2% in the past 12 months by introducing targeted ‘itchy feet’ programmes where development options are discussed with staff aged over 50, and the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust reducing nursing turnover by 3% by offering an ‘exciting’ career development program.

Flexible working

The excessively demanding schedules of NHS workers are part of the reason so many leave the service. If Trusts can introduce some form of flexible working, retention will rise. The desire for this is clear, especially amongst younger people, with 67% of millennials claiming ‘flexi-time’ was something they expected from a job. Technological advances, such as e-rostering and e-job planning, should help make the implementation of this a simple task. This will also contribute to the wellbeing of patients.

Research shows that one mobile working solution for community nurses resulted in a 60% reduction in time spent on paperwork and an increase of 29% in time spent with patients.

Employer brand

A strong employee brand can also improve retention. Research shows that 63% of employees admit that a trusted employer increases job satisfaction. This, however, is often overlooked, with only 30% of large companies using employer brand for retention, ‘even though retention is a top priority for talent professionals’.

Employee brand can be improved in a multitude of ways, even by implementing other methods of increasing retention. For instance, an organisation which offers training to employees and cares for staff wellbeing will garner a positive reputation with prospective workers and current employees.

Positive signs?

Ultimately, while the current situation is easy to protest about, there are positive signs. The Long Term plan contains many encouraging sentiments, with claims of renewed focus on ‘retaining the staff we have’ and the 2018 NHS ‘improving staff retention’ report touching on a number of topics discussed above, such as ‘supporting staff health and wellbeing’ and ‘offering a range of flexible working options for all staff’. These will categorically improve the situation if implemented, and it is great to see them on the agenda.

However, to achieve lasting change, efforts must be stepped up and Trusts must begin strategically managing workforces, for the sake of everyone involved.


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