Exclusive: Thousands of nurses leave NHS posts to maintain ‘work-life balance’, data reveals

Half of nurses leaving jobs at NHS trusts do so for ‘unknown reasons’, while thousands have left citing ‘work-life balance’, new data reveals.

Thousands of nurses and health visitors have left jobs at NHS trusts citing a need to maintain work-life balance, new data reveals.

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However, half of nurses leaving jobs at NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in England do so for ‘unknown reasons', according to the figures obtained by Nursing Standard from NHS Digital.

The RCN said the health service was sitting on a huge mass of ‘unclear data’ and more needed to be done to capture the reasons that nurses leave NHS jobs.

The data given to Nursing Standard show that, for nearly half (49%) of the 36,778 nurses and health visitors who left NHS trusts and CCGs between September 2015-16, no reasons for leaving were recorded.

RCN head of employment relations Josie Irwin said too few of the nurses leaving their posts were given exit interviews.

‘We think [a lot more] people are leaving for reasons of work-life balance, but the NHS is not good at capturing reasons for leaving,’ said Ms Irwin.

‘There is an issue around not knowing why people leave and there is a huge mass of unclear data.’

Retirement and relocation

After the 17,916 nurses who left NHS jobs at trusts and CCGs for ‘unknown reasons’ between 2015-16, the top five most popular known reasons for leaving are:

  1. Retirement – 4,656
  2. Relocation – 3,342
  3. Work-life balance – 2,823
  4. Employee transfer – 1,456
  5. Promotion – 1,228

Ms Irwin said the figures also support evidence from a report on the use of agency workers in the public sector issued in February by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

‘The reasons why people want to work for agencies are more sophisticated than simply work-life balance,’ she said.

‘People want flexibility in their working lives. They want to be able to meet their caring commitments and look after themselves, and have time to do leisure activities.

‘So they are either opting for agency staff or quitting altogether.’

In the report about agency staff, agencies told researchers flexibility was a key driver for nurses looking to leave permanent posts.

One agency manager said: ‘The nurse doesn’t want [permanent employment] because there would be a reduction in salary and a reduction in flexibility.

Ms Irwin added: ‘It is flexibility that a lot of nurses are looking for.

‘Staff members want to have more control over their working lives and not be working ridiculous shifts.’

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