Chief nurse says retention scheme kept workforce ‘afloat’

The head nurse of a trust recently named best nursing employer in the UK has said she is “ecstatic” that efforts to turn the trust around have been recognised.

Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust, in November, won the 2023 Nursing Times Workforce award for Best UK Employer of the Year for Nursing Staff.

“If we had not improved retention, we would be much worse off – we’re not constantly doggy-paddling to stay afloat”

Julie Anne Murray

The award recognised the trust’s embedding of a nursing career pathway all the way from student through to advanced practice, and the improvements to retention and staff development this led to.

Julie Anne Murray, interim chief nurse, said she was delighted her organisation, which delivers mental health, learning disability and community services, was recognised for the efforts put in to improve retention in recent years.

Ms Murray said the trust’s nursing workforce was “not in a great place” when she joined Lancashire and South Cumbria in 2019 as deputy chief nurse.

At the time, the trust had begun a nursing associate training programme and was looking to expand to meet local need, as well as make use of funding it had received for more mental health and learning disability nurses.

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However, Ms Murray explained, for this expansion to be sustainable, she and then-chief nurse Maria Nelligan realised the trust needed improvements to its retention and nursing career development offering, to avoid a leaky bucket situation.

The trust began a restructure of its nursing pathway to bring in people as students, nursing associates or apprentices and keep them through to registration, seniority and advanced practice.

With further investment into continued professional development (CPD) for both domestic and internationally-educated recruits, the trust aimed to get nurses progressing within the organisation without a need to leave for opportunities elsewhere.

“People felt invested in, and some of the feedback is people feeling there is more of a nursing voice in the trust,” Ms Murray told Nursing Times.

“They feel more recognised and respected by CPD. It makes people think that’s a place where nursing is respected, where nursing has a voice and people can see a value they add.”

The trust worked on ensuring there were senior clinical, not just managerial, posts available for the nurses embarking on the better resourced CPD.

“We made the more senior roles part of the strategy, to include advanced practice, consultant nurses and others so nurses could see there was a pathway which didn’t mean you had to go into management,” said Ms Murray.

“That helps support newly-qualified nurses coming through.”

Lancashire and South Cumbria also spread information to post-16 health students and apprentices, as well as within the trust, to “grab the interest” early and further embed the idea of local career progression.

“It supports our communities, and we [recruit] from them. It’s a really great opportunity,” added Ms Murray.

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These measures, Ms Murray said, have had a tangible impact on retention at the trust. In the 12 months ending December 2023, the trust saw a 21% decrease in registered nursing and midwifery staff, compared to the same period a year prior.

“We’re starting to see the benefits,” she added.

“It’s not the only reason it has improved, but it has contributed and allowed nurses to develop in the trust.”

Had they not been taken, the chief nurse said the trust’s expansion in recent years would not have been as sustainable.

She said: “After we received more ringfenced funding, recognising that over the years [mental health trusts] had not had our fair share of uplifts, we had [capacity for] higher staffing levels and began offering community mental health liaison treatments.

“It meant that if we had not improved retention, we would be much worse off – we’re not constantly doggy-paddling to stay afloat.

“Teams across the board from frontline staff who support students day-to-day, practice educators, safer staffing recruitment – were all part of supporting that journey of improvement.”

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