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Nurse retention ‘far greater challenge’ than recruiting trainees


Retention of nurses and other healthcare staff is a “far greater challenge” for the NHS than recruiting enough students for undergraduate training, a peer has warned during a debate on staffing.

Speaking yesterday on the impact of Brexit on staffing in the NHS and social care services, Baroness Mary Watkins and other peers outlined a range of ongoing problems with nurse recruitment and retention which they warned could worsen following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Baroness Watkins, who secured the debate and is a nurse by background, along with a number of other peers urged the government to reassure EU healthcare staff they would be able to remain in the UK following Brexit.

”The retention of staff within the NHS is a far greater challenge than recruiting students to join undergraduate programmes”

Baroness Watkins

Their comments echoed recent calls from NHS leaders and nursing organisations for the government to confirm that EU workers will have indefinite leave to remain.

In response health minister Lord Prior said the government had already said the prime minster “has been clear that she wants to secure the status of UK nationals abroad as well as EU nationals already living here” and that ahead of Brexit negotiations it would be “wrong to set out unilateral positions”.

The peers noted wider action also needed to be taken to deal with staffing shortages.

While Baroness Watkins highlighted there was a risk of deterring people from nurse training under new funding arrangements confirmed yesterday that will see the removal of bursaries and introduction of loans from next year, she said retention of staff was a bigger problem for the profession.

To help deal with this, she said there was a “clear case” for the government to consider paying back student loans for people who work in the NHS for a minimum number of years.

“How can we expect our staff to deliver the NHS Five Year Forward View if we do not support their continued professional development?”

Baroness Watkins

“As we continue the transition to the new healthcare education funding system in England, we need to look beyond the immediate implementation of these reforms to the longer term,” she said,

“The retention of staff within the NHS is a far greater challenge than recruiting students to join undergraduate programmes. There is a clear case for the government to consider ‘forgivable loans’ for students who go on to work in the NHS for, say, three to five years—a cost, of course, but one that could well be outweighed by savings on agency staff and recruiting from overseas,” she added.

mary watkins

mary watkins

Baroness Watkins

Baroness Watkins later went on to say “perhaps a deeper concern” was the threat to funding for continuing professional development.

She said this was an area “where very little has been said” and called for the “silence” to be broken “if the future of the NHS and its workforce is to be safeguarded through the momentous changes ahead”.

Baroness Watkins referred to the fact funding for the NHS workforce’s ongoing training had been cut by around 45% this year.

”In terms of retaining the staff we have, having trained them, there is a great deal that we can do”

Lord Prior

“How can we expect our staff to deliver the NHS Five Year Forward View and the care our population needs if we do not support their continued professional development necessary to do their jobs?…We all understand the financial pressures on the NHS but education and training must no longer be a soft target,” she said.

In response to concerns raised about NHS staffing, health minister Lord Prior referred to a number of government initiatives to boost workforce numbers.

He said workforce planning body Health Education England had been increasing the number of commissioned training places for healthcare staff in recent years, while repeating previous claims there would be up to 10,000 extra trainees by 2020 under the education reforms which will see bursaries removed.

The government’s plans to expand apprenticeship schemes would also “help NHS employers to recruit staff and reduce reliance on expensive agencies,” he said.

“In terms of retaining the staff we have, having trained them, there is a great deal that we can do,” he added.


Readers' comments (16)

  • here the is false hopes all round what peers do for should do for others the is lots of students in in uk that have no posts but peers look for others ?????

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  • Re post above. I could not understand what you were trying to say. If it is that you cannot get work here then please look into improving your language skills. You may well have what it takes as a person but writing understandable notes for other staff is part of the job and care without that is dangerous. I wish you well and hope you will put effort into this part of the job. You could start by asking at the job centre what training is available. Good luck.

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  • Baroness Watkins you are a very wise woman. This is the heart of the problem. The resolution you suggest is remarkably sensible.

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  • I qualified in 2008 and had 1 year nursing then reported to the NMC by my colleagues. I admitted to my manager that I was struggling in Theatre. No mentor, no support, expectation I knew what I was doing?,6 bereavement's in my family. I've not nursed since 2012 and the NMC restrictions stated that I had to do a return to practice of 150hrs. I have applied to 80 placements in 4 years and no one is interested. I know there are hundreds of trained nurses out there where they failed in the first year trained where they had no support. Universities should continue to help newly qualified nurses, because in my experience the new employer does not care.

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  • blahblahblah

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  • I'm not surprised there is a problem with retention of nurses. The culture of bullying and harrassment upon nurses has become untenable and the nature of nursing has become unfamiliar to many,and not what we trained to do at all.

    Note how all 6 posters have chosen to remain anonymous! That surely speaks volumes.

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  • Where I work more and more is expected of nursing staff with very little support from management, they appear to be unforgiving. We would like to give more time to our patients less on the computor. Over the years our salaries appear to be shrinking. Nursing has become an undesireable career choice, which is a shame, because there are a lot of people who would make fantastic nurses but under the current situation would not even consider it. It is time to change and listen to nurses.

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  • There are a significant number like Baroness Watkins who have 'nursing backgrounds' but with respect I often wonder, with their experience, why they are not helping to complete the frontline workforce? I appreciate some, but by no means all, have to leave on health grounds.

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  • Staff retention is a major problem mainly due to nursing not being a lucrative career. Shop workers are paid £10-£11.00 an hr whilst nurses have to go to university for 3 years to earn just a bit more! The staffing levels are falling, the university fees are going up, the bursary has been scrapped and the pay is frozen year after year whilst inflation rises! Then they wonder why the NHS has a staffing problem

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  • Retention issues are multifactorial and have been around for the last thirty years that I have been practising. Until leadership improves, and we as professionals make a stand against the constant short staffing, and the bullying that goes on, etc. things will not change. For more than 30 years the NHS has not considered workforce planning, this is another factor contributing to the issues.
    Although salary is important, I think the majority of nurses join the profession because of other factors, and these other factors are equally important as salary. As as leadership continues to ignore the research out there regarding training, resilience, workplace stress and staff : patient ratios, nurses will continue to leave the profession in high numbers daily!

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