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NT Workforce Summit: HEE leader highlights focus on nurse retention amid rising demand

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Stopping nurses from quitting their jobs is the “single biggest workforce challenge” facing the NHS today, the chief executive of Health Education England has warned.

Speaking during the inaugural Nursing Times Workforce Summit last week, Ian Cumming revealed that the nurse leaving rate had risen from 7.3% in 2012-13 to 8.7% in 2016-17.

“Everyone is accepting there has to be more resource put into CPD”

Ian Cumming 

Latest figures from NHS Improvement show there are 41,722 vacant nursing posts in England – a rise from 35,794 in quarter four of 2017-18.

Mr Cumming said that previous workforce planning had been based on the assumption that patient demand would stay relatively consistent, but in reality it had risen at an unprecedented rate.

He said that in 2005 one million patients were interacting with NHS services every 36 hours, but by last year this increased to one million every 17 hours.

“If you look at that relatively short time scale of 12 years the workload on the NHS has more than doubled – that’s why we are facing these challenges,” he told delegates at the conference.

“Workload has grown much faster which has resulted in vacancies and the real pressure and real challenges people are facing up and down the country in caring for patients in our NHS,” he said.

“Millennials want much more flexibility – they do not want to do the same job for 30 years”

Ian Cumming

To meet future demand, Mr Cumming said there would need to be around 190,000 more whole-time equivalent clinical staff working in England by 2027.

He noted that this would require a staff growth of 3-5% every year for the next decade but at the current rate of training and turnover the workforce would rise by just 72,000 – leaving a 118,000 shortfall.

The head of the government arms’-length body stated that keeping nurses in employment was the “biggest workforce challenge in the NHS at the minute”.

While acknowledging that pay and workplace pressures were factors driving nurses away, Mr Cumming said lack of job flexibility was the key reason.

He pointed to the “really good work” around retention being led by Professor Mark Radford at NHS Improvement, as previously reported by Nursing Times.

Mr Cumming said out of 45,000 nursing associates who were set to be trained by 2027, 17,000 were expected to be become registered nurses.

“This is a new profession in its own right and a new, really important route into nursing, particularly for people who are a little bit older who don’t want to access the student loan route and go off to university” he said.

Mr Cumming said the health service also needed to adapt to the changing needs of its staff from different generations.

“Millennials want much more flexibility – they do not want to do the same job for 30 years, they don’t want to work the same number of hours than perhaps earlier people wanted to work,” he noted.

He added: “Our workforce wants something very different – we either embrace that and accept it or our risk having to train more and more people as we are simply not keeping people.”

During a question and answer session after his presentation, a delegate asked Mr Cumming about the reduction in budgets for continuing professional development (CPD).

Mr Cumming said the decision to take money out of CPD was “the right one at that time”, but he acknowledged that reinvestment was now needed to improve retention rates.

He said HEE was bidding for “additional resource for CPD development” to be allocated in the NHS long-term plan, due to be published this autumn.

“Everyone is accepting there has to be more resource put into that direction”, Mr Cumming added.

He said there were also five important reviews currently underway that were likely to impact the workforce, including the Topol Technology Review, as well as others around staff mental health, NHS volunteers, training for unpaid carers and supporting members of the public to “self-care”.

More from the Nursing Times Workforce Summit and Awards:

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