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Thousands of nurses have quit the NHS, new data shows

NHS faces a staff retention crisis, warns Labour Party

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Over 200,000 nurses have quit the NHS since 2010, new research shows.

The findings from the Labour Party, published today, suggest the NHS is facing a major staff retention crisis.


The research, verified by the House of Commons Library, shows:

  • Voluntary resignations citing poor work-life balance have increased more than any other reason – by 169% between 2011/12 (6,699) and 2017/18 (18,013).
  • The number of voluntary resignations for reasons of health has doubled (99%) – from 2,126 resignations in 2011/12 to 4,234 in 2017/18.
  • The percentage of ambulance staff leaving the NHS has increased by 3.3%, from 4.8% in 2011/12 to 8.1% in 2017/18.
  • The average annual change in hospital and community staff has been just 0.8% since 2009/10.

Labour’s research is being released in anticipation of Baroness Dido Harding publishing a Workforce Implementation Plan for the NHS.

In a speech this morning at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank, Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary, will warn that the government’s ‘failure to meet NHS constitutional standards on staffing’ is driving a retention crisis.

He will say: “It’s utterly staggering that our NHS has lost over 200,000 nurses under the Tories and that voluntary resignations from the NHS is up 55%

“We are facing a retention crisis in our NHS and standards which staff should expect – enshrined in the NHS Constitution – have simply been abandoned.

“After years of pay restraint, cuts to training budgets and growing pressures it is no wonder the NHS is facing chronic shortages of 100,000 staff. These shortages affect patient care every day as waiting lists grow and operations are cancelled.

“A Labour government will invest in NHS staff and help staff develop to meet the challenges of the future. It’s my ambition that the NHS becomes the best employer in the world. It’s not only the correct thing to do to improve the quality of care of patients, it’s in our economic interest as well.

Commenting on the findings, British Medical Association (BMA) council chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: “This research lays bare the serious extent of the NHS workforce crisis which continues to cripple our health service.

“It is encouraging that Labour has recognised the BMA’s Fatigue and Facilities Charter and the importance of having adequate rest facilities for NHS staff.

“Too often we are hearing of doctors suffering from stress and burnout and this is of course true for other healthcare staff, many of whom are working in challenging and often stressful conditions, without access to adequate rest facilities or being able to take breaks.

“The numbers of nurses who have left the profession is alarming. As doctors well know, nurses are crucial to the effective delivery of patient care and we cannot afford to lose any more as this will only exacerbate pressures. This is unstainable and not conducive to good patient care.

“Improving working environments is a key factor in retaining NHS staff and given the serious staff shortages the health service is currently facing, we need to see the implementation of a comprehensive workforce plan that delivers for its hardworking staff.”

Responding to the new analysis from the Labour Party, Royal College of Nursing acting chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “Health and care services are losing thousands of experienced, dedicated nursing staff who feel as if no one is sufficiently listening to their concerns and patient care is routinely compromised by chronic staff shortages. The RCN is calling for accountability for staffing of safe and effective care to be enshrined in law in England  - at the highest levels - to ensure we have the right numbers of nurses in the right places across health and social care.

“It will be impossible to grow the number of nursing students in higher education, and refresh our workforce, without a clear commitment to addressing supply and a fresh funding of at least £1 billion to replace the existing flawed system. We also need a sustained increase in funding for continuing professional development which must be tailored to ensure nursing staff have the skills they need now and for the future.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our Long Term Plan sets out not only how we will make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world, but also how we ensure it is a consistently great place to work for our dedicated staff.

"There are over 15,800 more nurses on our wards since 2010, with 52,000 more in training - and we are improving staff retention by promoting flexibility, wellbeing and career development and helping more nurses return to practice. 

"As well as providing funding to increase university training places, we will set out a full Workforce Implementation Plan later this year to ensure the NHS has the staff it needs for the future.” 

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