Expert advice

Workforce: Return to practice just the first step

Funding for return to practice courses must be matched by efforts to retain those nurses who return, says James Buchan

Last month it was revealed that Health Education England (HEE) sent letters to 54,000 former registrant nurses, asking them to enrol on return-to-practice courses. 

The move is part of HEE’s ‘Come Back’ campaign, launched in 2014, and aimed at encouraging experienced staff to return to the workforce. 

Four building blocks

Sending out unsolicited letters is old technology, and a blunt instrument. Some letter recipients would have come back to nursing without HEE intervention, while some will not want to come back at all. 

But it is the third group that matters – those who might come back. A letter may trigger thoughts of returning, but the reasons they left the register in the first place need to be addressed. 

Four main building blocks need to be in place to support nurses back into practice: refresher training to update skills and boost confidence, funding to cover costs, flexible working hours and the reality of a workplace experience that matches the promise from HEE that there has ‘never been a better time’ to nurse.

Increasing turnover 

The first two are already in place. HEE is backing up its mailshot with funding, and will pay the returner’s course fees, cover the cost of clinical placements, and give a one-off payment to help towards costs such as childcare and travel expenses. 

Equally important, but less open to top-down intervention, is the provision of flexible hours to maintain a work-life balance and a positive workplace experience. 

Data suggests the turnover of NHS nurses has been increasing in recent years, with concerns about staffing levels and workload rarely out of the headlines. 

It seems clear that using funds to attract nurses back to the profession only makes sense if they are matched by efforts to retain them.

About the author

James Buchan James Buchan is professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

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