Policing and nursing retention rates outstrip private sector

17 Jun 2019 By Francis Churchill

But experts say figures mask issues of ‘overworked’ staff and lack of confidence in managers

Retention rates in a number of key public-sector professions, including policing and nursing, have far outstripped the national average, the latest data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has shown.

The retention rate – defined as the percentage of people who remained in the same occupation or who have been employed by the same employer for a year or more – between 2016 and 2017 was 84 per cent in the public sector. This was slightly higher than the private sector, which had a retention rate of 83 per cent.

However, several of the largest public-sector professions have shown much higher individual retention rates.

Policing had the highest rate of 94 per cent, followed by nursing and midwifery at 92 per cent, and doctors at 89 per cent – all above the national average of 83 per cent. 

The figures closely follow the publication of the NHS interim people strategy earlier this month, which highlights staff retention as one of its key areas for improvement over the coming years.

The data also appears to contradict previous reports that staff turnover in the NHS has reached “critical levels”.

At the very bottom of the list were cleaners and housekeepers (74 per cent) and care workers (67 per cent).

The figures also highlighted a fall in retention rates in both the public and private sector of 1 percentage point compared to 2012 to 2013, with the largest drop in retention seen in social workers and public-sector care workers.

Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market analyst at CIPD, said although it was no surprise that highly skilled professions, including police officers and nursing, had higher retention rates, many care workers and cleaners were in roles with inferior employment conditions and were often being paid the national living wage. These workers can also easily transfer to private- sector professions including retail and hospitality.

“The real issue that needs to be explored is why a higher proportion of public-sector workers say they are overworked and have less confidence in their managers compared with other workers,” said Davies.

“Such findings will clearly have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of all public-sector workers, which will ultimately bear down on retention rates.”

Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive and registrar at the Nursing and Midwifery Council, said the release of the NHS’s interim people plan last week was a “welcome step in tackling the improvements required to put the recruitment, retention, training and development” for the profession, but said it was important to have an integrated approach to healthcare.

“As a UK regulator, we are mindful that these proposals are for the England system and predominantly focus on the needs of the NHS.

“It is particularly important that we continue to develop an integrated approach to the health and social care workforce if people using services in all settings are to get the care and support they need and deserve,” she said.

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