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Focusing on retaining nurses as ‘important’ as recruitment efforts


A package of measures is needed to help retain existing nursing staff within the profession, according to a new report drawing on international evidence.

The briefing report, published by the International Centre on Nurse Migration, stresses the need to focus on the retention as well as the recruitment of nurses in order to tackle a global shortage.

“All organisations must also pay as much attention to improving the retention of nursing staff”

James Buchan

Report author Professor James Buchan, a nursing workforce expert and consultant with the International Council of Nurses, said: “Too often the policy focus on ‘solving’ nursing shortages is only on recruiting new staff.

“All organisations must also pay as much attention to improving the retention of scarce, skilled and experienced nursing staff,” he said.

The risks of not paying sufficient attention to retention are spelt out in the report, which states that when a nurse leaves an organisation it can lead to “reduced continuity of care, disruption to services, and a drop in overall productivity”.

“Where there is a longer time lag between the nurse leaving and being replaced, perhaps because of skills shortages or funding difficulties, then these negative impacts can become magnified,” said the report.

Research from a number of different countries suggested that the cost of losing a nurse “will be at least the equivalent of several months’ pay, and considerably more if the nurse has specialist skills”, it said.

Queen Margaret University

James Buchan

James Buchan

Meanwhile, a high nurse turnover rate also puts more strain on staff who stay put, with poor work environments and a “heavy and unsustainable workload” increasing the risk of mistakes, stress and burnout and even more nurses leaving.

The report goes on to stress the fact no single project or initiative can boost retention on its own and instead a range of different measures are needed, including looking at pay, steps to boost support, and ensure nurses can access training and career development opportunities, and the introduction of flexible and “family friendly” working arrangements.

The report highlights the importance of robust data on retention, including gathering the views and experiences of nurses to identify factors contributing to retention problems.

“Identifying the most effective balance of policies to improve retention of nurses is in part about understanding the profile of the workforce and developing the evidence base on the work experiences and motivations of the nurses,” said the report.

“This can be achieved through surveys, exit interviews, focus group feedback, and consistent analysis of labour market indicators in order to help prioritise interventions.”

Meanwhile it also stresses the need to look at retention in the context of wider workforce planning and evaluate the success of retention schemes.

“There is no magic bullet to improving retention: what we need is a package of measures”

Howard Catton

Howard Catton, director of nursing and policy at the ICN, said the solution to widespread nursing shortages “has to be as much about retaining the nurses we currently have as it is about recruiting new nurses”.

“Evidence clearly shows that when nurses are enabled and supported to do the job they were trained to, they are less likely to leave the profession,” he said.

“We must provide them with the motivation that led them to join the profession in the first place – that is delivering the best quality care they can for patients,” said Mr Catton.

“As the report makes clear, there is no magic bullet to improving retention: what we need is a planned, integrated and bundled package of measures,” he added.


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Readers' comments (5)

  • I am a RN. Presently working my notice in a Nursing Home. I do as much work that should be allocated to 2 or 3 nurses. The mental pressures are phenomenal. I know what hard work is. I know what good continuity of care is. Have been nursing since 1982. I Will be thankful to move onto my next post. We need to be valued as nurses. We need to be listened to. The pay also, needs to be recognised for the job we do. Aged 57.

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  • Well said.

    Pity Jane Cummings, Hilary Garratt and RCN leaders don't speak up for us, preferring to Kowtow to government .

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  • Currently working in a trust that is very short staffed as a community nurse now it’s the summer and colleagues are on annual leave it’s a nightmare, new member of staff started this week and looks horrified at our work load, no one can work at this pace and do a professional job the only way we are coping is by doing documentation in our own time which impacts on our family relationships, I understand anyone who wants to get out of nursing, what they expect from you is totally unrealistic and what they pay you is a joke.

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  • I work on the nurse bank in a very rural location. Most of the small hospitals and the big one have serious staffing issues. One of the issues I have is travelling 2 hours or more a day to get to work. If accomodation was offered to bank staff on site. You may just get the edge on staff cover for certain sites especially in remote and rural areas. Not sure why trusts do not look at this.

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  • They have replaced me with 2 nurses in 2 of my most recent jobs. The reason I left the jobs was an unrealistic workload after services were 'reconfigured', i.e. staff numbers were cut to reduce the budget. That sends a message: don't hang on in there when your service is cut. If you try to do the work of two or more nurses the managers will let you. And the patients will suffer because it's not possible.

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