Cuts at national level to ongoing training budgets for nurses must be reversed as part of measures to tackle “urgent” problems with staff retention, the head of the body representing NHS employers in England has said.
Any additional funding given to the NHS by ministers in coming years must see extra money used for nurses’ continuing professional development, said NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer.
“If there is to be additional investment in the coming years, we need to see investment in CPD”
He said this should tackle some of the recent reductions made by workforce planning body Health Education England, resulting from “disinvestment” in the government arm’s-length body itself.
This loss of budget from HEE had resulted in “workforce development” funding for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals falling by 60% in two years, from £205m in 2015 to £83.49m in 2017.
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Mr Mortimer was speaking to Nursing Times to mark the launch of a new guide published by NHS Employers about how organisations can reduce staff their turnover.
He said: “If there is to be additional investment in the coming years, we need to see investment in CPD alongside investment in total care in communities, alongside investment in pay, alongside investment in other services – particularly in mental health and cancer.”
“I am clear, and one of the conversations I have with [trust] chief nurses and HR directors, is there needs to be some reversal of that disinvestment… in HEE,” he said in an exclusive interview with Nursing Times.
He acknowledged that NHS organisations were “doing their best” to find money for CPD themselves, which was important, but that more national funding was also needed.
“Retention is really important, because it’s about not making that gap even bigger”
He said analysis of NHS Employers’ staff retention programme, which has seen it work with 92 trusts since the end of 2016, found career development and ongoing training were key reasons for staff choosing to stay in or leave their jobs.
Other issues that needed tackling included supporting newly-qualified nurses and other clinicians, identifying affordable accommodation for employees and improved pay, said Mr Mortimer.
Some trusts had approached these issues, for example, by extending preceptorship for nurses beyond the first year after qualifying and making it easier to change jobs internally, he noted.
Mr Mortimer also acknowledged that there was “clearly” a difference between the level of nurse staffing being set by trusts and the number of nurses employed in substantive posts, noting that “a lot” of this gap was filled with agency workers.
“Filling those vacancies is really important,” he said. “That’s why retention is really important, because it’s about not making that gap even bigger.”
NHS Employers’ new guidance – titled Improving Staff Retention: A Guide for Employers – sets out seven main areas that organisations should be looking at to reduce turnover.
These include use of workforce data, such as staff surveys, to understand where and why staff were leaving, developing, creating a “positive” workforce culture and improving support for new staff.
Other areas covered by the guide are supporting flexible working, career development, ensuring staff have different retirement options that mean they can continue working, and improving empowering line managers to make changes.
“As the words ‘workforce crisis’ continue to dominate headlines in relation to health and care, it was clear to us that we must waste no further time in finding ways to address it,” added Mr Mortimer in a statement accompanying the guidance.
“Retention of talented individuals, and especially our clinical staff, is just as important as recruitment to keep vacancy levels low – that’s why NHS Employers has been working with 92 NHS organisations to support their work to retain staff,” he said.
“While there is growing concern that the public sector pay cap and national investment in professional development are impacting upon retention of staff, there is also an acknowledgment by employers that there are other important factors in their control that influence whether staff choose to work in the NHS,” he said.
“They include not only pay and reward, but development opportunities, flexible working, work-life balance and the values that an organisation displays,” said Mr Mortimer.
Regulator NHS Improvement, which is leading a similar programme of work – but focusing specifically on nurse retention and mental health staff – said it was working closely with NH Employers on the issue.
Nurse staffing shortage is ‘top priority’ for regulator
Source: Kate Stanworth
“Retention of our staff is extremely important for patient care and that’s why NHS Improvement and NHS Employers are working together to support the spread of good practice across providers in the NHS in England,” said Ruth May, executive director of nursing at NHS Improvement.
“We will continue to work closely with providers and our partner, NHS Employers, to encourage the NHS to use the resources available, listen to examples of best practice and learn from each other on ways to make lasting changes for employers and employees alike,” she added.
Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, HEE’s director of nursing and deputy director of education and quality, said: “HEE does not, and never has had a specific allocation for general CPD for the NHS workforce.
“Our workforce development fund covers a broad range of investment based on local NHS priorities and some areas have used this funding to support specific CPD programmes in addition to employers’ own CPD primary responsibility,” she said.
She added: “We will continue to invest in strategic workforce development in line with key service priorities, like cancer and mental health, to make sure that we have a workforce better equipped to deliver now and in the future, while ensuring the best value for every pound of public money we spend on education.”