A report by the University of Bath on NHS workforce retention has revealed that more frontline workers are trying to leave now than at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report from the Institute for Policy Research (IPR), called ‘Should I stay or should I go? NHS staff retention in the post Covid-19 world’, highlights a rising trend in the number of NHS staff applying for non-NHS jobs since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic.
One in 10 of all staff reported having ‘completed an application for a non-NHS job in the previous six months’, in winter 2020/21. By spring 2022 the proportion had risen to one in seven.
However, the overall rate masks notable variability across different segments of the NHS workforce. The rate for ambulance paramedics and early career staff in spring 2022 was one in four.
The findings are based on three waves of survey data from over 17,000 NHS staff gathered between late 2020 and summer 2022.
These provide insight into what impacts NHS employee motivation and capacity to stay or leave the NHS over the period since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report also revealed that the most important reasons why staff leave NHS employment are: stress (66%), shortage of staff/resources (62%) and pay (55%). Pay has become markedly more salient since 2020, rising from 37% in 2020 to 55% in spring 2022
‘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.
More than one in three NHS staff reported one or more symptoms of burnout most days or every day in spring 2022, largely attributed to their work.
Approximately 50% of the workforce see themselves as remaining in NHS employment for the next five years but around a third want to exit to alternative employment or retirement by 2027.
Lead author, Dr Andrew Weyman of the University of Bath’s Department of Psychology, explained: “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 improvement on that issue alone is unlikely to stem rates of exit in the absence of action to reduce workload, stress: workers feeling undervalued, unsupported, and exhausted.”
Writing in the report, the authors argued that a key challenge now for NHS policymakers and employers is aligning identified priorities for change to address staff retention with their scope for influence over fundamental elements in the short, medium and long term.