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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)

  • More apply for training places than places available, but the drop out rates during training are already very high and i have seen many people leave shortly after qualifying once they realise how hard the job is.

    Now factor in the axing of bursaries - who wants to incur perhaps 50k of debt for a job paying such low wages?

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  • I agree with Lyne Sanderson about some of the factors regarding retention. She mentions salary is important, but people choose nursing for other factors; isn't this the same in any career/job? For some reason, the Department of Health seems to think that salary is of no concern to nursing staff, and are content to offer derisory annual salary increases year after year, pushing staff deeper into debt and/or negative impact on lifestyle. Neither the training or the job are easy, and when you see your peers earning considerably more, working daily at a job they enjoy and where they are respected, you wake up one day and say "No more"! Until nurses are held in some esteem and remunerated accordingly, and offered decent working conditions, the retention problem can only escalate. My own workplace seems to think it acceptable to impose changes to work terms and conditions without consulting staff, it is starting to feel more like a Dickensian workplace and is becoming very unpleasant. I can't wait to leave and find a job where I feel valued.

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  • Change of culture needed urgently ! Talk of student retention is a joke. A final student who is much better than some of the newly recruited nurses will be failed if they don't like him/her. Evidence will be cooked in the assessment book so that not even the Uni can stand by their student. The bullying is spilling out to tutors, open your eyes !

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  • The claim that 10,000 more nurse training places will be available as a result of stopping the bursary is ridiculous, not least because it will put people off applying in the first place. The government also seem to miss the point that a nursing degree is a full time course including working on placements, and they more than earn their bursary at the moment. Without that in place, I envisage a sharp decline in applicants.

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  • I have noted the word bullying mentioned frequently amongst the previous comments. Nursing now is not like the profession I came into 40 years ago. Nurses are now stressed, bullied by seniors, poorly paid, not supported and over worked. No wonder people do not want to train in this profession anymore, because I wouldn't now.

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  • Who is going to study hard for 3 years , work on placements for nothing, end up with a £50000 debt for a job starting at £21000?
    Plus working 12 he shifts, dealing with abusive patients and relatives because there's not enough of you to get to them the minute they want, paying to park, paying to register each year!
    Nursing is the most disrespected profession ever. People need to feel appreciated and valued for their contribution to society not dread going into work because yet again you have responsibility for 12 acutely ill patients and worry you will end up in front of the nmc if you don't manage. Nurses are burnt out and fed up. Who in their right mind would want to work hard to be rewarded with these conditions and pay?

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