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‘We must be honest about the issues we face as a profession’

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I am proud that chief nurses and HR directors are focusing on retention – many have done so for a while. Now we have a movement underway to act collectively as a profession to retain our staff.

We have been so pleased with the engagement that we’ve had in our retention programme to date in making changes to support the frontline.

“The data is stark, and beneath it hides some very serious challenges”

The recent health select committee report highlighted the issue of nurse retention that we face, however, it does not just relate to the NHS, but other parts of the care and social sector too.

The data is stark, and beneath it hides some very serious challenges. Counter to the prevailing view, this is not exclusively about colleagues retiring or colleagues leaving the UK with the uncertainty of Brexit – there are some underlying issues that we must face as a profession.

First, we are losing colleagues in the first few years of practice. We have developed and supported them through their graduate training, then the reality of practice and in some cases, the pressures outlined above are coupled with poor support. Some never return.

Second, maintaining a work-life balance as a nurse is hard. Thirdly, our age profile in nursing is ‘right shifted’ in that there are greater numbers of nurses over 50, who can start to plan their retirement.

“I equally hear frontline nurses talk so passionately about their work and the impact they make”

For many, they wish to move on to a new part of their life, while others wish to remain in practice and continue contributing. Retaining the years of expertise is critical to support new generations and continue to deliver high-quality care for our patients.

Alongside this data, we have personal stories of the pressure our staff face on the front line. “It’s hard” they say; “I’m exhausted” say others; “I worry about safety”; and the hardest of them all is “I can’t deliver the care that I want to and my patients are not getting the best”.

I equally hear frontline nurses talk so passionately about their work and the impact they make on the lives of patients, clients, services users and their families. They are so proud to be nurses, and know that the work they do is valued by the public, and we continue to see high ratings of confidence from the public.

Nurses describe the support they draw from each other, and from the wider multiprofessional team, knowing that each and every day they touch the lives of many – making a valuable impact to them and the communities they serve.

The reason for the clarity and candour is that we must be honest and open to the issues we face in our profession. There are many things that are outside of our control, and while they influence the ability for us to retain our staff, there is work we can do.

“I am so proud to be a nurse, and always will be. It is an amazing profession and so rewarding”

I understand the need for continuing professional development and will be working with Health Education England and others to improve this. Pay is also a factor and we welcome the government’s position on this.

It is one of the reasons that NHS Improvement set up the national nurse retention programme six months ago. A large part of the programme has been about facilitating learning between trusts and implementing local plans to support improvement.

The direct support part of the retention programme was developed to support NHS trusts with the highest staff turnover rates and all mental health trusts in England.

I am so proud to be a nurse, and always will be. It is an amazing profession and so rewarding. I appreciate that for some of you it doesn’t feel that way, but collectively, we can change this and most of all retain the staff we have.

Ruth May is executive director of nursing, NHS Improvement.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • These are all well made points.
    We have found in our ED that ensuring the study allowance of 2.5% is used, and that staff routinely are given time off the shop floor is key. It sounds contradictory, but no matter how short you are, ensuring study leave happens is key.
    The failure of keeping nurses in the first few years is something we need to urgently address as a profession. People don't leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers.

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