As line managers and leaders, we play a crucial role in supporting our workforce to stay with us, and to stay well

Retaining our staff is one of the most vital issues facing the NHS and as line managers and leaders, we play a crucial role. As a nurse, I know from experience that it’s the contribution of the whole team that delivers the very best patient outcomes and enables us to be the best we can be. That’s why in my role as Acting Chief People Officer, creating the conditions in which all colleagues feel seen, valued and cared for remains an urgent priority.

The NHS People Plan set out a key ambition – to have more people, working differently in a compassionate and inclusive culture. To help achieve this, the National Retention programme is delivering several interventions alongside regional, system and provider level teams to improve the experience of staff, with the aim of improving retention rates, maximising employee participation and reducing inequalities.

This includes the new improving staff retention guide, developed with NHS Employers, which aims to inspire and equip those with responsibility for improving retention across their organisation to help staff feel happy and supported to achieve their individual ambitions, whilst delivering the highest levels of care.

The guide reflects the very latest learning and innovation from the pandemic and includes new chapters which explore best practice around retaining staff in the early and later stages of their career, with specific focus on induction, reward and recognition and support during the menopause.

Over the past 18 months, we’ve supported 87 organisations and 13 systems across all seven regions to use a data driven approach. We’ve worked with them through a series of 30, 60 and 90-day improvement cycles to really understand what the data tells us, and in turn identify the actions that can be put in place to achieve our goals.

People Promise exemplars

The NHS People Promise is the bedrock of this programme of work as it’s influenced by thousands of staff who told us what they want from their NHS over the next five years. From March, we’ll be working with 23 ‘Exemplar’ organisations, which will work to deliver all elements of the Promise in one place at the same time.

We’ll regularly review what works, and what doesn’t, and after 12 months will share what actions we’d recommend at organisation and system level. I’m excited to begin this work and discover together how the NHS People Promise can affect real change for our workforce.

Retention is an intensely personal thing – it’s difficult to apply a blanket approach across the country and assume it will speak to everybody individually. We already know that what our people want in their early career is very different from, for example, the last five years of their career, and our work aims to get clearer on what that looks like.

I ask you to encourage your line managers and team leaders to make use of the guide, and our other resources, to support their retention plans. And if you have any queries or are interested in more tailored support, please do contact us at

Photograph of Professor Em Wilkinson-Brice

Em Wilkinson-Brice is the Director of Staff Experience and Leadership Development at NHS England. Em qualified as a nurse in 1992 in Exeter. She was appointed to NHS England in September 2019 following roles spanning over 30 years in the NHS bringing clinical operational experience, working at executive level as Director of Nursing and Facilities at Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Em returned to Exeter in July 2010 where she undertook various executive roles alongside the Chief Nurse role, including Chief Operating Officer, Deputy Chief Executive and lead for integration across Devon. In recognition of the close working partnership between the Trust and two local universities, Em was awarded Associate Professor Faculty of Health and Human Sciences at both Exeter and Plymouth Universities.

Em has a keen interest in people and workforce, health and wellbeing, staff experience and organisational culture. She led on responding to the national workforce challenges of Covid-19. Em remains a practicing nurse and has a Master’s Degree in healthcare management and became a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) in 2022.