EXCLUSIVE: Number of nurses leaving their posts on the increase due to stress, burnout and work-life balance issues

The number of nurses and health visitors leaving trusts in England because of work-life balance issues has more than doubled in the past five years

The number of nurses and health visitors leaving trusts in England because of work-life balance issues has more than doubled in the past five years

  • Work-life balance issues in wake of more nurses working 12-hour shifts
  • Burnout, stress and increase in staff sick leave
  • Staff shortages and work pressures contribute to mental and physical fatigue

Life balance
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NHS Digital data obtained by Nursing Standard shows 11,297 nurses and health visitors left their posts from 1 April to 30 June 2017.

Of those who left during the first quarter of the financial year 2017-18, 1,416 gave work-life balance as the reason for leaving.

The figures are in stark contrast to the opening three months of 2012-13, when 8,080 nurses and health visitors left posts – with just 628 citing work-life balance.

Findings mirror a rising use of 12-hour shifts

Although similar data is not collated centrally by the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish authorities, the stories behind the data have been recognised by nursing leaders across the UK.

RCN senior research lead in employment relations Rachael McIlory said the findings mirrored a rising use of 12-hour shifts by trusts.

‘We see it in our survey results, we hear it in feedback from our representatives, we are hearing it when talking to members. It just seems this push for 12-hour shifts or other long shifts for ‘efficiency’ by trusts, is ignoring that staff cannot do them physically, emotionally or mentally,' she said.

She said nurses who did not want to work long shifts, of up to 12 or more hours, often feel the only alternative is to leave.

More sick leave and many quitting because of burnout

Doctoral research suggests 12-hour shifts lead to more sick leave. In 2016, a nurse in Scotland told Nursing Standard colleagues were quitting because of burnout.

But anecdotal evidence shows that some nurses still prefer longer shifts, so they can have more days off or even the opportunity to pick up extra shifts to supplement their income.

The RCN estimates there are 40,000 vacancies in England alone and this, Ms McIlroy suggests, adds to the pressure on those who remain.

‘People are being moved to cover staff shortages, first to one ward, then maybe to the emergency department, and that contributes to fatigue setting in, mentally and physically,' she said.

RCN Wales director Tina Donnelly agreed with the issues raised by her colleague in England: ‘Many RCN members report an increase in stress levels due to the complexity of work pressures and we are convinced that this has a detrimental effect on the retention of staff.'

Six of the key reasons Welsh nurses may feel stressed

Ms Donnelly said the reasons Welsh members give for stress include:

  • A shortage of specialist staff.
  • The pressure created by teams being even just one or two members short.
  • Extra workloads created by cuts to administrative support.
  • High levels of patient demand.
  • Verbal abuse and aggression towards staff.
  • The cap on pay and feeling undervalued.

Three trends reveal why English nurses leave their posts

The NHS Digital statistics reveal the following trends in reasons for leaving posts in England:

  • Flexible retirement, which includes reducing hours ahead of full retirement, doubled from 171 in the first quarter of 2012-13 to 360 in the same period of 2017-18.
  • Resignations for health reasons rose from 121 to 218 in that five-year period.
  • Relocation increased from 1,231 to 2,015 in this time frame.

However, the most common reason given for leaving in England is recorded as ‘other/not known’.

Although the 'other/not known' figures have remained stable – at 2,050 and 2,061 in 2012-13 and 2017-18 respectively – the RCN fears exit interviews are not being carried out properly and valuable information to support retention is being missed.

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