Work-life balance driving increasing number of staff to leave the NHS

Health Foundation report highlights ‘worrying’ lack of improvement in retention rates

Health Foundation report highlights ‘worrying’ lack of improvement in retention rates

An increasing number of staff cite work-life balance as a reason for leaving NHS posts. 
Picture: Neil O'Connor

Work-life balance is increasingly reported as a factor for staff leaving the NHS, a new report warns.

Charity the Health Foundation’s third annual report on NHS workforce trends highlights a ‘worrying’ lack of improvement in staff retention rates. It says:

  • More than two and half times as many people cited work-life balance as a reason for leaving the NHS in 2018-19 than in 2011-12 – an additional 11,000 people.
  • The retention issue was most stark in community trusts, where, on average, one in five staff left in 2017-18.
  • Community nurse and health visitor numbers fell by 1.2% (538 full-time equivalent staff) in the year to July 2018.

Queen’s Nursing Institute chief executive Crystal Oldman said her organisation’s evidence about the primary care and community nusing workforce also showed that staff shortages led to increased difficulties with retention.

‘Employers cannot take staff retention for granted’

‘If staff are working significantly beyond their contracted hours and are concerned about services being overstretched, some will seek employment opportunities elsewhere,’ Dr Oldman said.

‘This report makes clear that NHS employers can never take staff retention for granted.’

Patricia Marquis

RCN England director Patricia Marquis said a failure to address staff shortages meant nurses were being pushed to the brink.

'In community services that means trying to see more patients but with less time to give the level of complex care that patients need and deserve, which leaves nurses frustrated.'

Impact on the Long Term Plan

Health Foundation director of research and economics Anita Charlesworth said that while providing more care outside of hospitals was central to the NHS Long Term Plan, the health service faced ‘an uphill struggle’ if it could not recruit and retain staff.

The Health Foundation report also cites its joint work with Nursing Standard last year on nursing student attrition. This found a UK-wide drop-out rate of 24%, suggesting little change in the past decade, despite it being a policy issue.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the foundation’s workforce figures were 'misleading'. It cited the latest statistics, from October 2018, which it said showed 'record numbers' of NHS staff, including 2,564 more nurses and health visitors.

The DH was unable to clarify how many of those were community nurses.

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