5 tips to help build a cost-effective NHS staff retention strategy

High levels of staff turnover continue to be a critical issue for NHS organisations, exacerbated by winter pressures and growing patient backlogs. With approximately 50,000 workers leaving the NHS each year, this is not only impacting service delivery and staff wellbeing, but is also having significant financial consequences: £3bn was paid to agencies to provide nurses and doctors at short notice from 2021-22. 

 

While increased recruitment is an important part of addressing this problem, hiring new clinicians is costly: training a new doctor to pre-registration standards can be as much as £245,000, and £85,000 for a staff nurse. This also does not always address the root causes behind rising staff exit rates, such as inadequate government funding and work-related stress.

 

It is therefore important for organisations to prioritise retention, alongside effective recruitment drives, in order to save money and better support their staff in the long term.

 

Strategies for Improving Staff Retention

 

There are many different approaches that can be taken to improve staff retention. Some ideas that NHS organisations may want to consider include:

 

1. Offering flexible working opportunities



From the participants in the 2021 NHS Staff Survey, 46% said they were unsatisfied with opportunities for flexible working at their organisation, which is impacting the ability to retain full-time staff. Allowing clinicians to have more say over their schedules, without impacting service delivery, can help to improve workplace wellbeing and enable workers to balance their careers with their personal and professional commitments. A successful retention strategy could include options such as part-time or remote work, or increased flexibility around start and end times to meet the needs of staff with commitments such as childcare or training.

 

2. Taking individual preferences into account when scheduling



Only 53.3% of NHS Staff Survey participants feel that they have a choice in how they do their work, making it crucial that organisations create more supportive and flexible environments for staff. By considering the specific needs of each individual, organisations can build schedules that work for both managers and clinicians alike. 

 

Rostering tools that enable workers to submit their preferences in advance can help ensure that clinicians have autonomy to work in the most effective way. With effective workforce planning, allowing workers to request shift swaps, manage shift preferences and organise annual leave can all be achieved while maintaining patient care delivery and streamlining agency spend. 

 

3. Providing opportunities for learning and career development



Investing in the professional development of employees can help to improve job satisfaction and subsequently increase the likelihood of staff remaining in their roles. Returning to the 2021 NHS Staff Survey results, only 52.9% of participants felt that there were adequate opportunities for career development at their organisation. As such, enabling clinicians to explore and upskill in new areas (for example, by allowing staff to work across different sites and specialities via a collaborative staff bank), can not only have a positive impact on shift fill rates, but also reduce the risk of staff leaving their careers.

 

An effective retention strategy could also include training programs, mentorship opportunities, and support for staff who want to pursue further education.

 

4. Implementing a comprehensive onboarding experience

 

From our extensive experience analysing more than 4 years of data, it is clear that the quicker bank workers are moved through the onboarding process, the higher the number of shifts they go on to book, reducing the need to plug gaps with more costly agency workers. Providing clinicians with a positive experience from the outset will encourage them to actively engage with your staff bank long-term, and is crucial to a successful retention strategy.

 

This could involve providing thorough training and orientation, as well as ongoing support as they acclimatise to their new roles. Where possible, capturing knowledge from departing clinicians as part of the knowledge retention and transfer interview can also ensure that organisations drive process improvements using worker feedback.

5. Ensuring efficient payroll processes


Our data shows that the highest number of shifts are worked by staff who regularly have their shifts approved for payment within 7 days of the shift being worked. This highlights the importance of being paid on time when it comes to job satisfaction, building trust in the bank and its processes. By streamlining payroll processes and ensuring that staff are paid accurately and on time, organisations can improve the financial wellbeing of their clinicians and minimise the cost of workers becoming inactive on the staff bank.

The impact of staff leaving the NHS is placing huge financial pressure on organisations across the UK. By adopting these approaches as part of a wider retention strategy, organisations can drive sustainable and cost-effective improvements to workforce planning. 

 

To discuss your organisation’s specific staffing challenges and opportunities for improvements, feel free to get in touch at hello@patchwork.health.