More than 40,000 nurses left the NHS in the last year, the highest number and proportion since trend data began, according to research carried out by the Nuffield Trust. This is consistent with the UK care sector as a whole which had, on average, 6.8% of roles vacant in 2021.

But the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. Delving a little deeper shows the primary reason for leaving was retirement (43%), with work-life balance as the second most popular reason (31%). 

Naturally, retirees take with them years of knowledge and experience when they go and, in many cases, those seeking to improve their work-life balance do too. This is why retention is recognised across the care sector as the number one priority for managers.

Dr Billy Palmer, the author of the report, described the situation as an “urgent wake-up call” to the profession. A sentiment echoed by Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen who demanded to know what the new Prime Minister intends to do about the issue.

It remains to be seen what the government plans to do, but what is clear is that the NHS cannot afford to wait for legislation to be debated, drawn up and implemented. Action must be taken now to ensure standards of nursing in the UK are maintained while a long-term solution is reached.

But it’s not all bad news. Despite 40,365 nurses leaving the NHS in the year to June 2022, the overall number of nurses now employed by the organisation rose by just over 4000. The challenge, therefore, is to ensure these new starters, people with potentially long careers ahead of them, remain working in the NHS. 

The Department of Health and Social Care has acknowledged this, describing retention as “the most significant area of uncertainty” regarding its stated aim of increasing the number of nurses in the NHS by 50,000 by 2024. A target that it looks almost certain to miss.

So, how does the profession go about retaining nurses and starting to increase numbers? 

It must deal with the second biggest factor causing nurses to leave – work-life balance. 

To do this, it must first understand what work-life balance really means. Because it’s often viewed as nothing more than the balance of hours spent in or out of the workplace. But it’s so much more than that.

It’s about being happy at work, feeling valued and not becoming overburdened with stress so that your job begins to permeate your downtime. And these are not necessarily issues for the government. Sure, they can deal with some aspects of it, but there is also so much that local NHS management can do.

Factors such as supporting personal and professional development or recognising and celebrating successes can help to build a sustainable workplace. These are just a few of the simple ways you can start to create a culture that drives retention which, in turn, reduces the workload of each individual and enhances that culture. To talk to us about how to start building a retention culture in your establishment, call on 01244 344322 or enquire online.

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