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More than 7k resignations every month as NHS staff seek better work-life balance

Published on: 27 Apr 2022

New NHS staffing data suggest a ‘worrying acceleration’ of people choosing to resign from their jobs.

According to the latest NHS workforce statistics, the number of staff resigning voluntarily hit almost 70,000 in the nine months to January.

This was up from around 49,000 in the same period in 2020, and 57,000 in the same period during 2019.

Part of the increase appears to be driven by thousands of staff who would normally have resigned in 2020 choosing to leave in 2021 instead, boosting the numbers for that year. However, the rise in 2021 is still around 5,000 higher than the long-term trend once this is accounted for.

It is not possible to tell from the data whether staff have chosen to leave the NHS altogether.

Billy Palmer, a senior fellow at the Nuffield Trust think tank, highlighted that the number of staff pointing to work-life balance as a reason for leaving their role in the 2021 period was 40 per cent higher than in the same period two years before.

“These latest figures show a worrying acceleration from people who may have put off leaving at the height of the pandemic. In survey after survey, issues around work pressure and burnout are cited as reasons for clinicians considering leaving.

“The NHS must get better at acting on these concerns earlier to reduce numbers leaving rather than risk retention issues spiralling. Ambitious recovery targets have been set out, but the health service will struggle to manage a huge increase in activity without sufficient staff,” he added.

Mr Palmer also argued that the NHS’s understanding of the number of staff leaving and the reasons for this were still “worryingly limited”.

“This represents a huge missed opportunity for services to learn about how to better retain staff and has diversity and inclusion implications, given that the levels leaving and the reasons for doing so vary between staff groups,” he added.

When analysing the data, which was published on 31 March, HSJ included most of the voluntary resignation categories, such as “work-life balance”, “lack of opportunities” and “health”, but excluded “promotion” and “relocation”.

NHS England has not responded.

Despite the rise in voluntary resignations, the number of full-time equivalent staff increased by 7 per cent between February 2020 and December 2021, with the greatest annual increase seen in “support to clinical staff”, which could include nursing associates and physician assistants. This does not appear significantly out of line with increases seen in previous years.

Union warns of ‘an imminent crisis’ in managers leaving

Trade union Managers in Partnership has warned of “an imminent crisis” of managers leaving the NHS.

In a recent survey of 700 senior managers, around two-thirds said they were seriously considering leaving the NHS, or have done so in the last year, while more than half are actively considering bringing forward their retirement.

The situation for ‘very senior managers’ was worse, with 81 per cent considering leaving and two-thirds considering early retirement.

Although these figures are similar to a survey of its members conducted last year, the percentage of managers recommending an NHS career has fallen to its lowest level in the 10 years, to 49 per cent.

Jon Restell, chief executive of MiP, said: “The lack of appreciation for staff, especially for working during the pandemic, is one of the main reasons cited by managers for considering ending their NHS careers, along with falling standards of living, frustration with the lack of pay progression and high levels of stress and burnout.

“With the ‘demographic bulge’ of managers who joined the NHS in the early 1980s now approaching retirement age, the findings suggest a looming problem could quickly become an imminent crisis.”