The shocking extent of a growing retention crisis in the NHS was revealed by new research which found that more than 200,000 nurses have left the health service since 2011.
The research, published this week (March 26) by the Labour party and verified by the House of Commons Library, also revealed a 55 per cent increase in voluntary resignations from the NHS over the same time period, under successive Tory-led governments.
Voluntary resignations citing work-life balance have skyrocketed by more than any other reason, with more than 18,000 staff leaving the NHS last year because of work-life balance issues, up 169 per cent from 2011.
The number of people leaving the NHS because of health reasons has doubled over the last eight years, from 2,126 resignations in 2011/12 to 4,234 in 2017/18.
The exodus of NHS staff has left 100,000 positions in the health service left unfilled at a time of skyrocketing demand, in turn increasing pressure on staff who are working flat out with fewer and fewer resources.
This has served to create a toxic workplace environment where in some cases bullying and harassment by staff has been allowed to fester unchecked.
This bullying culture was revealed at a local trust by the Scarborough Evening News earlier this month, when staff at Scarborough Hospital spoke out about being abused by colleagues and managers.
Unite regional officer Chris Daly told UniteLive the news reports were only the tip of the iceberg.
“Sadly, bullying is a problem that’s prevalent not just at Scarborough Hospital but throughout York Teaching Hospital Trust and the NHS as a whole. And as the latest NHS staff survey has shown, it’s a problem that has become worse, year-on-year.”
A Unite rep working for York Teaching Hospital Trust who asked to remain anonymous confirmed the reports.
“Instances of bullying at our trust by management are especially pervasive,” she told UniteLive.
“Managers shouting at staff in corridors, belittling them even in front of patients, or using policies to abuse staff are common. For example, managers have threatened to take away breaks for drinks from staff, leaving them only with a lunch break. It’s become a very toxic environment – and some very dedicated workers are leaving in droves precisely because of this.”
The retention crisis in the NHS prompted Labour to announce on Tuesday (March 26) a raft of policies aimed at tackling the situation, including bringing back bursaries for nurses and midwives scrapped by the government in 2016.
The party has also committed to reinstating funding for health-related degrees, so that no one who wants to choose healthcare as a career is dissuaded by the costs involved.
Announcing the new proposals, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said that the Labour party would restore funding for continuing professional development budgets to 2013 levels; guarantee training and reskilling for staff impacted by the coming wave of automation; legislate for safe staffing levels in the NHS and invest in ongoing pay and reward that goes beyond just breaking the pay cap set by Tory governments.
Ashworth said the party would moreover throw its weight behind a national Staff Wellbeing Strategy to support all staff, among other commitments.
“We are facing a retention crisis in our NHS and standards which staff should expect – enshrined in the NHS Constitution – have simply been abandoned,” Ashworth said in a speech on Tuesday (March 26).
Among these standards enshrined in the NHS Constitution are having healthy and safe working conditions and an environment free from harassment, bullying or violence.
“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.”
‘Menu of positive actions’
Unite national officer Jackie Williams said the scale of the retention crisis revealed by Labour research was “searing and sad indictment of the wretched short-sighted policies of successive Tory health secretaries.
“What we need is menu of positive actions to attract dedicated and committed people who wish to work for the NHS, the jewel in the crown in the UK’s welfare provision for the last 70 years.”
Williams called for “an environment in the NHS which is free from bullying and harassment, where the pay and reward policy is fit for purpose, and there is the opportunity for continuous professional development to ensure workers have the right skill set and technical support to underpin their roles during their careers.
“Crucially, pay in the NHS will need to continue to rise in real terms in order to retain staff – it is clear that prime minister Theresa May’s belated £20.5bn-a-year funding boost for NHS, announced last summer, is too little, too late.”
Williams praised Labour’s commitments this week, especially the scrapping of bursaries for nurses and funding for health-related degrees.
“This will be welcome news for our health visitor members who are concerned about where the next generation of health visitors and community nurses is going to come from,” she said.
“The shortfall of nursing staff, which is scheduled to rise to 70,000 full time equivalent nurses in just five years’ time, needs to be urgently addressed and today’s announcement by shadow health and social care secretary Jon Ashworth signposts a progressive way forward to tackle this shortage and the myriad of other issues affecting the NHS due to years of Tory neglect.”