NHS data doesn’t show 27,000 quit the health service for work-life balance reasons

7 July 2023
What was claimed

The number of staff who quit the NHS citing work-life balance stood at 27,546 in 2022.

Our verdict

The data doesn’t support this. While the latest NHS Digital data shows that this many staff left NHS roles in England in 2022 citing work-life balance as a reason for leaving, it does not tell us whether they quit the health service altogether or went on to a new NHS role.

On 1 July the Observer reported that more than 27,000 NHS staff in England have quit the health service for work-life balance reasons.

The paper said: “The number of staff who quit the NHS citing work-life balance stood at 27,546 in 2022…”

But this is not quite right.

The latest NHS Digital NHS Workforce Statistics ‘reasons for leaving’ data shows that in 2022 a total of 27,546 hospital amd community health service (HCHS) staff did cite work-life balance as the reason for their voluntary resignation. 

But NHS England, which NHS Digital was merged into earlier this year, told Full Fact that the data only shows the reasons staff left NHS roles, which it calls “assignments”. So it will include people who have quit the health service entirely but also staff who left one NHS role for another. 

Its spreadsheet itself says: “These figures represent staff leaving/moving within each stated 3 month period.”

So the data cannot categorically tell us if they all left the NHS completely, making it incorrect to report that 27,546 staff “quit” the NHS citing work-life balance reasons.

For context, in 2022 the same data shows us that 238,808 reasons for staff leaving assignments were recorded. Separate data on turnover (which the Observer also quoted) shows that 169,512 HCHS staff left the NHS in England. NHS England said this figure also includes staff who may not have left permanently, for example those going on maternity leave or a career break. 

So the number of people changing roles for work-life balance reasons appears to be a relatively small proportion of all those leaving or changing roles within the health service. 

NHS Digital has told us previously that the ‘reasons for leaving’ dataset is not a list of leavers but a download of all the reasons for leaving and staff movements. So if a staff member left a role and did not give a reason they would not be included in the figures while other staff could have recorded multiple reasons for leaving.

The media must report official data accurately so that the public understands what we know and what we don’t about healthcare systems.

We have asked the Observer for comment.

Image courtesy of Natanael Melchor.

We took a stand for good information.

After publishing this article, we contacted the Observer to request a correction regarding this claim.

The Observer amended a line it its article and added a footnote. 

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