NHS retention drive expanded across the country with thousands fewer staff leaving frontline roles

Thousands fewer staff left the NHS last year, thanks to a major new retention programme which is now being expanded across the country.

Up to 42 more NHS trusts are set to benefit from the NHS retention programme, which has seen staff offered extra flexibility with working hours, clinical ‘support squads’ to help menopausal women at work, and HR ‘stay advocates’, who find ways to keep staff on the brink of leaving.

The expansion comes as data shows the equivalent of 14,000 fewer staff left the NHS in the 12 months up to August 2023 (108,890) – compared to 122,970 the year before.

The ‘exemplar’ pilot programme has benefitted 23 NHS Trusts since it launched in April 2022 with hospitals receiving expert support to identify ways to keep staff happier.

United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust introduced weekly in-house menopause clinics led by the trust’s wellbeing team and staff network and has saved £9million on agencies so far this year.

Any staff member who thinks they are showing symptoms of menopause can self-refer themselves to the clinic, where they will initially be triaged by a nurse and given advice on how to manage the condition, as well as being offered a range of wellbeing support available at the trust.

If clinical support is required, the staff member will be offered a 45-minute appointment with a specialist menopause doctor, with suggestions for treatment, prescription or onward referral shared with the staff member’s GP. Staff can also be offered cognitive behavioural therapy where they are given advice and tips to manage the effects of the menopause.

The ‘menopause support squads’ were introduced by ULHT as 3,500 of their staff were women over 45 – more than a third of their workforce (35%).

Lancashire and South Cumbria Foundation Trust has been urging staff considering leaving the trust to have confidential catchups with HR ‘stay advocates’, who help identify ways to improve their working life and stop them leaving. The informal chats lead to staff being offered training for new skills and changes to working hours.

The programme is part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan ambition to retain up to 128,000 more staff over the next 15 years in addition to training record numbers of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Dr Navina Evans, Chief Workforce, Training & Education Officer at NHS England said: “This winter is going to be a challenging one for the NHS, and while staff will be going above and beyond to look after patients, it’s also important that we look after those helping us too.

“That is why we are almost doubling the number of trusts implementing our successful retention programme, which has helped prevent thousands of staff from leaving the NHS altogether – a crucial intervention at a time when our workforce is under so much pressure.

“But the NHS will not stop there, and as part of the first ever Long Term Workforce Plan, the NHS will take practical and sustained action to retain tens of thousands of more staff over the next 15 years.

“While we will also recruit and train hundreds of thousands more people and adopt the latest tech to give our staff the support they need; so if you are interested in working for the NHS, or have loved ones who might be, please consider joining us.”

Professor Em Wilkinson-Brice, National Director for People at NHS England said: “Joining the NHS was one of the best decisions I ever made – it is a hugely fulfilling and interesting place to work – but we cannot rely on this alone to keep staff happy.

“That is why as part of the National Retention Programme staff will benefit from tried and tested interventions which have already helped thousands of staff members stay, and importantly stay well in the NHS.

“The NHS will go even further as part of our Long Term Workforce Plan with staff set to benefit from better opportunities for career development, improved flexible working options, and improvements to the pension scheme so even more stay with us.”

Health Minister, Andrew Stephenson, said: “Staff are the backbone of our NHS, working tirelessly to take care of us and our loved ones and we’re making changes – including through the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan – to ensure we retain their valuable skills.

“It’s encouraging to see the NHS’s retention programme has helped to reduce the number of people leaving. We need to build on this and continue to deliver the changes needed so that the country’s biggest employer remains an attractive and fulfilling place to work.”

Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of NHS Employers (part of the NHS Confederation), said: “Employers across the NHS have focused on retention of their people as never before and the evidence is starting to show that this making a difference around the country. As the largest employer in the country, there is still a lot that the different organisations that make up the NHS can learn from one another, as this programme demonstrates. The government has committed to increase training of healthcare staff and employers absolutely accept that these new staff need to enter modern, flexible workplaces focused on developing and retaining their people.”