Family friendly working at the heart of NHS staff retention plans

The NHS looks at returner programmes and family friendly working in its bid to improve staff retention.

woman in wheelchair being taken care of by nurse, with doctor talking to another nurse in background


More family friendly working and the expansion of a returner scheme are part of the radical action the NHS needs to take to improve working conditions, boost training and retention and become a ‘model employer’ for staff, according to a report on the future of the health and care workforce.

Facing the Facts, Shaping the Future, A health and care workforce strategy for England to 2027 looks at the future of the NHS workforce and will result in a final report to be produced next July to coincide with the NHS 70 anniversary. Health Education England says that report will be the first comprehensive health and care workforce strategy in over 25 years.

Among the measures it recommends to future-proof the system are:

  • targeted retention schemes to encourage staff to continue working in healthcare, including support for local NHS organisations on how to improve retention rates, an expansion of the nursing Return to Practice scheme and efforts to encourage European nationals to stay by ensuring a streamlined, user-friendly service for obtaining settled status
  • improvements to medical training and how junior doctors are supported in their careers, with a greater emphasis on producing more doctors in areas where there are the biggest shortfalls, including general practice and psychiatry, and ongoing efforts to improve the working practices of doctors in training, such as improving access to training opportunities and better communication around rotations and shift patterns
  • a far-reaching technology review across England, led by Professor Eric Topol, looking at how advances in genomics, pharmaceuticals, artificial intelligence and robotics will change the roles and functions of clinical staff over the next two decades and what this will mean for future skills and training needs – this will build on existing schemes to improve the digital skills of the healthcare workforce, including the planned launch of the Digital Academy in January 2018
  • making the NHS a more inclusive, ‘family-friendly’ employer – the strategy also acknowledges the changing shape and expectations of the NHS workforce, with more people wanting flexible working practices to enable them to balance work and family life. It concludes that NHS organisations will need to develop an employment offer that remains attractive for all staff.

The draft strategy, which is out for consultation, looks at the major workforce plans for the Five Year Forward View priorities: cancer; mental health; maternity; primary and community care; and urgent and emergency care.

While acknowledging increasing demand from patients and increasing pressure on NHS staff and the fact that up to 42,000 posts in nursing, midwifery and the allied health professions are not currently filled by substantively employed staff, it also reveals that work is underway to address this.

Professor Ian Cumming, Chief Executive, Health Education England said: “The report tells us there are some areas of strength, 6,000 more staff working in primary care, the highest-ever number of people entering GP training in the history of the NHS. However, increasing the workforce alone is not the only answer, we need to look at ways to tackle the number of vacancies and staff leaving the profession.”

The new ten-year forward look shows that if no further action is taken to reduce demand through prevention, productivity and service transformation, the NHS will need to grow by 190,000 posts by 2027 to meet demand. It highlights six overarching key principles to address this, including providing career pathways for all staff rather than just ‘jobs’ and ensuring that NHS in its entirety is a modern model employer with flexible working patterns, career structures, and reward mechanisms.


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