With no end in sight to the nurse recruitment crisis gripping the NHS, I was pleased to hear this week that national efforts to retain the current staff who are keeping the system afloat are being redoubled.
In this job it is very easy to get bogged down in the doom and gloom.
Barely a day goes by without yet another workforce warning being issued in response to a startling new statistic or report.
Nurse vacancy rates are continuing to rise with more than 40,000 posts unfilled in England alone.
“NHS Improvement quite rightly stepped up to the plate last year and launched a new retention programme”
Almost 3,000 more nurses a year are now leaving the NHS than joining it, and this trend is likely to continue.
Student nurse numbers have steadily fallen since the government withdrew bursaries.
With the future looking bleak, NHS Improvement quite rightly stepped up to the plate last year and launched a new retention programme.
As local supply dries up and Brexit poses a threat to the overseas stock, the regulator turned its attention to those nurses already working in the NHS. It offered a helping hand to a small group of trusts in England with higher-than-average nurse turnover.
With the mental health trusts in the scheme, NHS Improvement widened the net to all clinical roles as I was told they have more serious issues with retention.
The aim was to figure out what was driving these employees away and to put plans in place to stop others following the same path, giving trusts access to support from national clinical experts.
With early signs of success, the programme was soon extended to another 70-odd trusts and this week nursing chiefs exclusively told Nursing Times it will be rolled out to all providers in England over the coming months.
So, what have they learnt from the work so far?
While organisations had their variations, project leader Mark Radford highlighted several themes.
“The scheme also shone a light on the need to harness the potential of the older workforce”
He told me as a general rule, employers will have a better chance of keeping hold of their nurses if they offer flexible contracts (and not just to parents with young children), engage with their frontline nurses and involve them in key decisions, and provide them with opportunities to develop their career and move up the ladder.
The scheme also shone a light on the need to harness the potential of the older workforce rather than sidelining them in the later stretch of their careers.
The trusts involved in the programme have been encouraged to improve their offer to older nurses and make it easier for them to stay on or return to practice past their retirement age.
Mr Radford, director of nursing (improvement) at NHSI, says it is “perfectly achievable” to retain up to 40% of our nurses by enhancing so-called retire-to-return options.
This project is to be welcomed – but it is also long overdue.
Nurses represent the biggest and one of the most trusted professions in the NHS, working miracles every day to keep patients safe while delivering care with an unrivalled level of compassion and empathy.
To allow any nurse to leave the profession because they feel undervalued or unsupported is unacceptable at the best of times. In the current crisis it is unforgivable.