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Long working hours see NHS quitters rocket

NHS workers are leaving at a rate three times higher than seven years ago

NHS staff are leaving the service in record numbers, according to recent research, with many citing the inability to strike an acceptable work-life balance as the primary reason.

With over 40,000 vacancies on the nursing side, NHS workers are leaving at a rate three times higher than seven years ago. Their work-life balance, or rather the lack of it, was the single biggest factor that came out of the analysis from the Health Foundation thinktank.

This balance is something many of us strive for across a variety of professions; however, for NHS staff, it goes beyond the occasional case of ‘working late’ or putting in a double shift. Employees are often happy to help out at peak times or to support colleagues when there are unforeseen circumstances, such as illness, but it is the regular routine of having to put in additional time just to keep on top of their to-do list that is causing the quitting trend.

Spending too long at work means there is less time to spend with families, which is not something that can be ignored. It goes beyond frustration when it becomes an issue big enough to leave behind all your professional training and, in many cases, a lifelong calling. This is why there are calls for something drastic to be done to make the wholesale changes required to stem the tide.

Huge numbers of nurses are leaving. 2,910 quit in the 12 months from June 2017 to June 2018, compared with the same period ending June 2011 when 1,069 quit. There was a slightly smaller percentage increase amongst doctors – 270 quitters, up from 101 – but this is still dramatic.

Whilst not a surprise, the publication of these latest figures after a steady decline will come as a huge disappointment and frustration to the health unions, which have been highlighting the growing issue for many years. The consistent pressure of too much work and having to make the impossible choice between duty and family is simply becoming too much for many NHS staff.

Few NHS staff would disagree that the work they trained for is generally still very satisfying; however, on the flip side, it is often the job that has to give before something else does. The media has been giving heightened coverage to mental health and the rise of those in ill-health mentally, with a growing focus on raising awareness. It is estimated that almost 10.5 million working days are lost each year due to stress related to work, which is often the result of the sheer number of hours being worked compared with those spent on downtime.

The situation will not change overnight; however, the NHS is working on proposals to fill some of the vacancies and to offer more flexible working to all staff to assist in redressing the work-life balance.

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