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Why are nurse retention rates dropping?

There are currently 36,000 nurse vacancies in the UK. With retention rates continuing to drop, this project examines how to arrest that decline and assess the impact it's been having on patients.

A nurse having a tough time at hospital


Research background

An increasing rate at which nurses leave the NHS has resulted in 16,000 fewer nurses in substantive posts in 2017 than there would have been had retention been maintained at 2012 levels. Consequently, there are 36,000 nurse vacancies.

Vacancy rates are unequally distributed amongst the professions, specialties and geographical regions across the country. This variation introduces inequalities to patients as some suffer more compromised care than others. However, as is the aim of this proposal, this variation can be used to detect underlying contributory factors for better or worse nurses retention within large, organisational and national datasets.

Research aims

This project is separated into two distinct but related work packages (WP1 and WP2) over four phases. WP1 combines and aligns multiple large datasets from 20 trusts across secondary care and mental health to enable the analysis of multiple variables and their effect on nurse retention, and how these variables in combination with nurse retention, subsequently effect patient outcomes.

WP2 will design and test an infrastructure for the routine extraction, combination and analysis of these large datasets in order to enable the adoption of these techniques across the NHS upon completion of this programme of work.

Both work packages build on work previously conducted by the research team in big data analytics and unification of large datasets in both acute and mental health settings (Leary et al. 2016, Jones et al. 2018).

How will the research be carried out?

The project proposes a preparatory phase, which will enable the research team to recruit the 20 participating organisations and establish all of the necessary governance and communication infrastructure required. This infrastructure will enable seamless and timely recovery of the required datasets for analysis in the subsequent phases.

The technical phase will focus on delivering the intended outputs including the analysis stages of WP1 and the design and development of infrastructure to support the routine analysis of these datasets in the future in WP2. The evaluation phase will involve the appraisal of the outcomes of the technical phase and potentially some further testing and technical refinements.

The consolidation phase will focus on writing up and completion of the communication strategy designed during the preparatory phase to disseminate the findings and optimise opportunities for impact.

Intended outcomes

The programme will feed directly into policy, with members of the team having membership of national level working groups such as the National Workforce Retention advisory group