Almost half of NHS workers surveyed have left their role or are considering it

Professor Manish Pareek

A significant number of healthcare workers have either left their job or considered changing it because they feel undervalued or have experienced discrimination according to a new study led by the University of Leicester in collaboration with University College London (UCL) and other institutions.

The study, published today in The Lancet found that 48% of healthcare workers surveyed had either considered or acted upon changing or leaving their roles. Medical staff (47.2%) and nurses (55.8%) were more likely than allied healthcare workers (45.4%) and healthcare scientists (36.8%) to report intentions to change or leave their role.

The findings are based on a questionnaire conducted between October and December 2021 as part of the UK-REACH study into ethnicity and Covid-19 outcomes in healthcare workers. The survey was responded to by 4,916 workers, including doctors, nurses, scientists and allied healthcare workers such as dietitians, occupational therapists and podiatrists.

Professor Manish Pareek from the University’s Department of Respiratory Sciences and Chair in Infectious Diseases at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, and chief investigator for the UK-REACH study, said: “Nearly half of the healthcare workers in this study reported intentions to change or leave their healthcare role. This is highly concerning given the NHS is already short of more than 124,000 full time equivalent staff, with shortages projected to increase. Such staff shortages will put increasing burden on remaining staff, likely exacerbating attrition and ultimately risking patient safety.”

The survey also found that 47.5% of staff felt their work was undervalued by the Government, 20.6% felt undervalued by their employer and 17.7% by the public. Around a fifth (21.2%) of those surveyed said they had experienced discrimination in the previous six months either from patients, colleagues or both. 

Professor Pareek added: “It’s vital that these issues are addressed if we are to maintain the current NHS workforce and increase the numbers joining to fulfil future targets. The workforce plan goes some way to tackling this but only if the recommendations become a reality.”

Healthcare staff shortages in the NHS have been a growing problem in recent years, something the Government’s newly published NHS workforce plan aims to address. The plan seeks to ‘train, retain and reform’ and includes increasing the number of training places available for doctors, nurses and other allied health staff with better opportunities for career development and flexible working options.

It recommends that NHS organisations develop benefits packages for staff including local financial wellbeing support initiatives with investment in occupational health and wellbeing services for staff, overseen by a dedicated wellbeing guardian.

Professor Katherine Woolf, Professor of Medical Education Research at UCL and co-author of the study, said: “It’s clear that feeling undervalued within such a crucial service that’s already creaking due to the enormous amount of pressure it’s under is having a huge impact on those choosing to leave or considering leaving the NHS.  Equally, discrimination from patients and colleagues is not something that should be tolerated and only adds to the numbers looking to leave. These are vital issues that need to be addressed if we wish to reverse the current trend.” 

The UK-REACH study is a public health study jointly funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).