Retention is the biggest workforce challenge facing the NHS says HEE chief Ian Cumming

Retention is the biggest single challenge in tackling NHS workforce shortages, Health Education England chief executive Ian Cumming told the NHS Confederation conference.

He said that in 2016 there were 26,000 more clinicians working in the NHS than in 2012, but the number of funded posts went up by 62,000 to meet increasing demand, demographic changes and the drive to improve care quality.

There are 29,000 nursing vacancies, and 9% of nursing staff leave the NHS each year. In the worst provider for retention the nursing turnover figure is almost 35%.

Cumming stressed that flexible working was the key to retaining staff, especially nurses.

“The number one reason for leaving wasn’t morale, it wasn’t motivation, it wasn’t pay, [it was] flexibility. We had nurses saying to us that they had to leave because they couldn’t combine their nursing role in the NHS that they love with looking after friends, family, other caring responsibilities and other things they want to do with their life,” he said.

The number one reason for leaving wasn’t morale, it wasn’t motivation, it wasn’t pay, it was flexibility

GPs also want to work more flexibly. In the last few years the average GP works around 10% few hours – which is equivalent to cutting the GP workforce by 10%.

Measures which Health Education England will be promoting include extending practice at the ‘top of licence’ by expanding the role of the most experienced nurses, expanding initiatives such as nursing associates and physician associates and having more clinical apprenticeships.