Can newly qualified nurses help ease the NHS workforce pressure? Only if we adequately support them

Dr Helen Gibson UNI-1023Can newly qualified nurses help ease the NHS workforce pressure? Only if we adequately support them – Helen Gibson, Postdoctoral Research Assistant, School of Health and Social Work, University of Hull

As the STaR project moves into its first phase of data collection, a recent report by James Buchan and colleagues for the Health Foundation reminds us of the workforce challenges in the NHS. Rising Pressure: The NHS workforce Challenge (2017) discusses two significant challenges or pressure points as the report refers to them.  One of these ‘pressure points’ is the removal of the nurse bursary and its impact on student numbers and the other is staff retention – something that is central to the STaR project.

To say that the NHS is its staff is unlikely an understatement; Buchan and colleagues note that ‘Staff shortages fundamentally affect the ability of the NHS to deliver its services’ and this important report states that the NHS in England has a shortage of 29,000 FTE staff in 2016 – one in 10 of all nursing posts. Nursing shortages are costly to the NHS and they negatively affect patient care and outcomes (Griffiths et al 2016).  So why are nurses leaving? And what can be done to keep them?

Quoting NHS Improvement, Buchan’s report notes that ‘A large proportion of leavers are for unknown reasons’.  However, the literature suggests that stress, lack of flexible working opportunities and opportunities for further development are issues that affect nurse’s decision to stay or leave the NHS (Watson et al 2009, Edwards et al 2015).  The Buchan (20017) report notes ‘that the NHS Improvement has recently announced a programme to improve staff retention in Trusts across England and bring down the leavers rate in the NHS by 2020’ However, we need to ensure that schemes to enhance retention are aimed at nurses at all stages of their career.

When we think of newly qualified nurses it’s tempting to envision nurses fresh out of university brimming with excitement about starting their career as a nurse.  For many, this is the reality with their first role as a nurse the beginning of what is generally a long, successful and exciting career within the profession.  However, we must not forget that for some newly qualified nurses their first year in the role can be a stressful and challenging time.  The literature suggests that some of the issues that impact on more experienced nurse’s decisions to leave the NHS such as those mentioned above also affect newly qualified nurses.

The STaR project will look at how Universities and practice staff can work together to support newly qualified nurses to ensure that they have the best chance of continuing their career in nursing.


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