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Menopause aid and flexible hours ‘keep thousands in NHS jobs’

New retention schemes have prevented more than 10,000 nursing and other healthcare staff from leaving their jobs, according to NHS England.

More flexible working hours, work from home pilots, support for menopausal women, and confidential catch-ups for people thinking of leaving their jobs are among the policies that are being tried out in more and more trusts as part of a national retention programme.

“While staff will be going above and beyond to look after patients, it’s also important that we look after those helping us too”

Navina Evans

These schemes have helped “thousands” stay in their health service jobs, said NHS England national director for people Professor Em Wilkinson-Brice.

The government arms’-length body said its data suggested 14,000 fewer people had quit in the year ending August 2023 than the previous year.

The pilot of the NHS national retention programme, which launched in April 2022, has covered 23 NHS trusts and is intended to find ways to keep staff in their jobs.

It is now being used to meet a NHS Long Term Workforce Plan target to improve retention among nurses and other healthcare staff.

At United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, this target led to the introduction of a weekly menopause clinic which, NHSE said, has saved £9m in agency spend in 2023 by preventing staff absence.

Additional support for women’s health issues, including menopause, was discussed at 2023’s Royal College of Nursing (RCN) national congress.

There, registered nurse Dionne Daniel said menopause can “take a lot” out of women in their 40s and 50s, and that it – alongside endometriosis – “almost destroyed” her career.

The conference, held in May, concluded that addressing this would require health, rather than just wellbeing, support being offered.

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United Lincolnshire’s scheme allows any staff member experiencing menopause symptoms to refer themselves to the weekly clinic.

At the clinic, they will be seen by a nurse and given advice on managing their condition and signposted to wellbeing support.

From there, the staff member can be escalated to a 45-minute appointment with a specialist menopause doctor if they need or offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

“Joining the NHS was one of the best decisions I ever made – it is a hugely fulfilling and interesting place to work – but we cannot rely on this alone to keep staff happy,” said Professor Wilkinson-Brice.

“That is why as part of the national retention programme staff will benefit from tried and tested interventions which have already helped thousands of staff members stay, and importantly stay well in the NHS.

“The NHS will go even further as part of our Long Term Workforce Plan with staff set to benefit from better opportunities for career development, improved flexible working options, and improvements to the pension scheme so even more stay with us.”

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Another scheme highlighted by NHS England was ‘stay advocates’ at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust.

There, staff who were considering quitting their jobs were encouraged to speak with these stay advocates, who are part of the human resources team at the trust. They will then attempt to find ways to help keep the prospective leaver in their post.

NHS England said these began as confidential and informal chats, but that they have led to staff being offered training or changes to working hours to improve their work-life balance.

The NHS retention programme is now set to be expanded to 42 more trusts to meet the health service’s target of retaining 128,000 more staff over 15 years.

Dr Navina Evans, NHS England chief workforce, training and education officer, acknowledged the timing of this expansion as the 2023-24 winter was expected to be a particularly difficult one after a year of strikes which, in the case of junior doctors, are still yet to be fully resolved.

“This winter is going to be a challenging one for the NHS,” Dr Evans said. “While staff will be going above and beyond to look after patients, it’s also important that we look after those helping us too.

“That is why we are almost doubling the number of trusts implementing our successful retention programme, which has helped prevent thousands of staff from leaving the NHS altogether – a crucial intervention at a time when our workforce is under so much pressure.

“But the NHS will not stop there, and as part of the first ever Long Term Workforce Plan, the NHS will take practical and sustained action to retain tens of thousands of more staff over the next 15 years.”

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Health minister Andrew Stephenson said the retention programme’s results were “encouraging” and that it would now need to keep being built on.

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