Look after current staff to secure the future NHS workforce, says Ian Cumming

Ian Cummings

‘Retention retention retention’ was the mantra of Ian Cumming on day two of Confed17, with a call to secure a sustainable NHS workforce by looking after the staff we already have.

Showing figures on retention and supply, he highlighted the paradox of a large workforce shortfall, despite more people than ever wanting to take up nursing and medicine.

Though new staff will be gained in the coming years once their training is complete, the number of staff leaving the NHS will outweigh the numbers in this new influx. 

Between 2016 and 2018, 87,000 nurses will leave, not retire from, the NHS. And though 84,000 will come back, only 64,000 newly qualified nurses will start in that period. 

More flexibility needed

Insufficient flexibility in working patterns was the main reason for nurses leaving the NHS, according to HEE statistics. Addressing this root cause and looking after the staff we already have is essential, he said.

Mr Cumming suggested short, medium and long-term solutions to tackle the problem, including increased flexibility, new roles such as physician associates, and increased use of volunteers

People across all staff groups are choosing to work fewer hours and this trend is likely to continue, he said, which needs to be taken into consideration with workforce planning.

"Demand to work in the NHS is high," he said, "more medical and nursing students are applying than there are places available for them.

"The questions now are how do we get them in? How do we give them exciting and rewarding careers? How do we keep them and how do we make sure we’re not training to then lose them within first few years."

Challenges from delegates

More questions followed from delegates, with one particular challenge on cuts to CPD funding that resonated throughout the audience.  

To see Ian Cumming’s speech in full, including the questions and challenges from the audience, go to our watch again web page.

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