A new University of Bath Institute for Policy Research (IPR) report into NHS staff retention finds that more frontline workers are trying to leave now than during Covid-19.
The new report named Should I stay or should I go? NHS staff retention in the post Covid-19 world’ has revealed an upward trend in the number of NHS staff applying for non-NHS since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The team surveyed three waves of data from over 17,000 NHS staff, collected between late 2020 and summer 2022. The data provides vital insight into the motivations behind NHS staff and their likelihood of continuing to work for the NHS.
More NHS workers are looking for alternative jobs
In winter 2020/21, one in ten NHS staff reported having ‘completed an application for a non-NHS job in the previous six months’; this figure has risen to one in seven by spring 2022.
However, this overall figure hides the clear variability across different segments of the NHS workforce; for example, the rate for ambulance paramedics and early career staff in spring 2022 was one in four.
The report also found:
- The benefits of working for the NHS appear to have weakened in their effect since 2020. For example, 44% cited job security in winter 2020 falling to 37% by spring 2022, and intrinsic job satisfaction from caring for patients dropped from 39% to 35% during the same period.
- ‘Abnormally high staff shortages’ and ‘not enough time to do my job properly’ were the highest-ranked sources of worry among staff in spring 2022.
- Over one in three NHS staff reported one or more symptoms of burnout most days or every day in Spring 2022, mostly attributed to their work.
- Confidence ratings in improvements in working conditions in the next 12 months ranged from low to modest.
- Approximately 50% of the workforce see themselves as remaining in NHS employment for the next five years, but around one-third hope to leave for alternative employment or retirement by 2027.
- The proportion of NHS staff who ‘…would recommend working for the NHS to others’ shows a negative trend, with a drop of 10 percentage points (61% to 51%) between late 2020 and spring 2022. In nurses, the proportion of recommended working for the NHS in spring 2022 was 41% versus 54% in late 2020.
Improving employee retention will be challenging
The report noted a key challenge for NHS policymakers and employers is aligning identified priorities for change to address NHS staff retention with their scope of influence over fundamental elements in the short, medium and long term.
Lead author, Dr Andrew Weyman of the University of Bath’s Department of Psychology, explains: “The gathering of focussed, robust evidence on reasons why staff leave and what might need to change is of central relevance to informing future NHS human resource intervention strategy and policy aimed at stabilising and enhancing rates of staff retention.
“Identified drivers of employee exit from NHS employment are, for the most part, not new or pandemic specific. Rather, they present as latent incubating issues that have been amplified by the workload and working conditions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic and its secondary impacts.
“Employee ratings of almost all variables explored have at best remained stable and on a number of issues, notably staff shortages, intrinsic job satisfaction, morale, stress and mental health, worsened since 2020. By analogy, the pandemic does not present as a speed-hump effect followed by a return to normal, but as a benchmark heralding a new and more negative normal.
“Tackling staff retention to create a sustainable healthcare system is a key priority for the NHS in the post-Covid-19 world. Pay is important, but an improvement on that issue alone is unlikely to stem rates of exit in the absence of action to reduce workload, and stress: workers feeling undervalued, unsupported, and exhausted.”