Non-monetary benefits improve NHS nurse retention rates

Light touch initiatives, such as giving nurses enough flexibility at work and looking after their training and professional development, helped the NHS retain almost 1,700 more nurses and midwives, according to new research from the University of Surrey.

The House of Commons Committee on Health and Social Care recently described the NHS as being in the grip of the ‘greatest workforce crisis in its history’, which is likely to have serious consequences for patient care.

In this context, researchers from the University of Surrey looked into whether improvements to non-wage aspects of the job – such as improving training, autonomy and bringing clarity to a hospital’s mission – impacted a hospital’s retention figures, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Studying employee-level administrative data from English NHS hospitals, Surrey academics found that the 2017 Retention Direct Support Programme (RDSP) introduced by the NHS did improve nursing retention and decreased exits from the public hospital sector.

woman in blue dress wearing black sunglasses

The RDSP was a targeted and clinically-led programme providing direct guidance and support to decrease turnover rates across NHS hospital trusts, especially those whose leaver rates were higher than the mean.

Dr Giuseppe Moscelli, lead investigator of the study and associate professor of economics at the University of Surrey, said: ’These findings are crucial in sectors affected by labour supply shortages, and they are especially policy-relevant in the health care context, where such shortages could be a matter of life or death for patients in NHS hospitals.

‘Compared to training new nurses, which takes three to four years, improving retention is a time and cost-efficient solution to staff shortages, with the additional benefit of retaining specific human capital within the employing organisation.’

In the UK, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a 50,000-nurse staffing gap, and vacancy rates for registered nurses increased from 6% to 11% between 2013 and 2016.

Professor Jo Blanden, co-author of the study and a researcher at the University of Surrey, added: ’Limiting excessive workforce turnover is important for the efficient functioning of healthcare organisations. Health care is a labour-intensive sector, and nurses are a vital part of its workforce, constituting about one-third of the healthcare workers in the United Kingdom.’

The findings have been published as a discussion paper by IZA, the German Institute of Labour Economics.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona


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