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Record number of NHS staff quit because ‘it’s simply too much’

A record number of NHS staff are quitting because they are fed up with not seeing their families, research suggests. 

An analysis by the thinktank Health Foundation reveals the number of burnt-out staff leaving the health service has almost trebled in the past seven years.

Between June 2017 and 2018, 10,257 NHS personnel blamed a poor work-life balance for them leaving the health service – a 178 per cent increase from just 3,689 in 2010-to-2011. 

This comes as the NHS is struggling to fill almost 103,000 vacancies, including 40,877 nursing posts and a doctor shortage of 9,337.  

A record number of NHS staff are quitting because they are fed up with the workload (stock)

Becky Fisher – a GP and policy fellow at the Health Foundation – said: ‘Being a GP is a privilege and I love my job but it certainly does feel pressurised. 

‘We simply don’t have enough GPs, and demand for care is rising, so those still working are doing even more. 

‘The strain leads people to retire early or cut back – exacerbating the problem. 

‘The sheer number of decisions you make in a day can feel frighteningly large. 

‘You want to do your absolute best for everyone, but in reality you’re juggling competing needs – the patient in front of you, those in the waiting room, the results in your inbox. 

She added: ‘On a good day it’s incredibly satisfying, but on a bad one, I empathise with colleagues who decided that it’s simply too much.’

Results of the analysis – which is based on NHS Digital data – reveals the nursing profession has been most affected, with the number quitting due to a poor work-life balance rising from 1,069 to 2,910 over those seven years.


The shortage of NHS staff in England is continuing to worsen, official figures show.   

Figures published by the regulator, NHS Improvement, for the April to June period showed that 11.8% of nurse posts were not filled – a shortage of nearly 42,000.

According to Health Education England, around 33,000 of these positions are filled temporarily by agency staff – an unwelcome extra expense for local NHS trusts. 

A report by three leading health sector think-tanks estimates that if demand rises as predicted, the NHS will need 250,000 additional staff by 2030.

But if skilled workers cannot be attracted from abroad the shortage could reach 350,000 – roughly a quarter of the 1.2million workforce. 

Experts say low pay and long hours are two of the main factors which make finding nursing staff difficult. This, paired with student debt, makes the profession unappealing for young people. 

Of those quitting, more than half are under 40, with many citing stress and rising workloads for being behind their decision to leave.

In January the Royal College of Nursing warned the NHS was ‘haemorrhaging nurses’, as around 3,000 more nurses quit their jobs than started new ones in 2017.

And for doctors, 169 per cent more quit the profession due to unreasonable demands in 2017-to-2018 (270) than in 2010-to-2011 (101). 

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: ‘Retaining NHS staff is vital if the health service is to address the chronic workforce shortages. 

‘Funding constraints and growing staff shortages have continued to pile more pressure on those working in the health service, squeezing as much as possible out of a workforce that is clearly feeling the strain. 

‘With a gap of over 100,000 staff across the NHS, so much now hinges on the forthcoming workforce implementation plan.

She added: ‘Unless these shortages are reduced, the NHS risks being locked in a damaging and vicious circle of staff shortages, adding pressure on existing NHS staff and in turn, leading them to walk away from the service.’ 

According to Section 27 of the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service Handbook, ’employees will normally not be expected to work on average more than 48 hours per each seven-day period, calculated over 17 weeks. 

‘In exceptional circumstances the reference period may be extended, by agreement with locally recognised unions, to a maximum of 52 weeks.’ 

But the latest employment survey by the Royal College of Nursing revealed 71 per cent of nurses have worked additional hours at least once a week, compared to 58 per cent a decade ago.

And 15 per cent work additional hours on every shift.  

The NHS Long-Term Plan, which was published last month, aims to offer staff flexible working hours to combat its workforce crisis.  

It said: ‘Inflexible and unpredictable working patterns make it harder for people to balance their work and personal life obligations. 

‘To make the NHS a consistently great place to work, we will seek to shape a modern employment culture for the NHS.’ 

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals – one of the NHS’ largest trusts – has already introduced an array of flexible working schemes, including career breaks and job sharing, The Guardian reported. 

This comes after figures released at the end of last year revealed the NHS recruitment crisis has become so bad that some parts of the country are hiring one nurse for every 400 jobs advertised.

It was also reported 33,000 nurses quit in one year – an increase of 20 per cent since 2012-to-2013. 


Official figures showed in February that 41 per cent – around 10,000 doctors – are 50 or over and are expected to quit within the next five to ten years. 

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt promised golden hellos of £20,000 for trainees who take up unpopular posts in October.

Fewer young doctors are choosing to specialise as GPs, and are opting for more ‘macho’ career paths as surgeons or specialists.  

Numbers of GPs are known to be dwindling in recent years, placing even more pressure on an over-stretched health service.

Many are retiring in their 50s, moving abroad or leaving to work in the private sector, as practices have threatened to close their waiting lists until action is taken.

This continued crisis has left many patients at risk, with staff unable to cope with the rising demand and slashed funding.

The shortage of doctors comes despite the NHS adopting a plan in April to recruit 5,000 extra GPs by 2021.

Mr Hunt’s pledge of £2.4 billion was said to be the answer to the staffing shortage, helping plug the growing number of vacancies.

This money was devised to lure GPs to move to the worst-hit areas of England, and to stop them from seeking another career. 

Thousands of new ‘doctors on the cheap’ are also being trained to prop up the cash-strapped NHS, it emerged in June.

An army of ‘physician associates’ will work in GP surgeries and hospitals to diagnose patients, recommend treatments and perform minor procedures. 

Scores of practices also believe they are working well beyond maximum capacity – feeling pressured to take on a higher workload and risk mistakes. 



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