Are 40% of nurses leaving full-time work in their first year?

Published: 18th Dec 2017

In brief

Claim

More than 40% of newly recruited nurses are leaving full-time employment within their first year.

Conclusion

Incorrect. 15% of NHS England nurses who began as full-time staff between May 2016 and May 2017 had left full-time work by May 2017.

“According to the Government’s latest figures, more than 40% of newly recruited nurses are leaving full-time employment within their first year.”

Emily Thornberry, 30 November 2017

This is incorrect. Of the nurses who joined NHS England as a full-time employee between May 2016 and May 2017, 15% had left full-time work by the end of that period. That means they either reduced their hours or left the NHS.

Ms Thornberry’s figure of 40% refers to something different. It compares the total number of nurses joining the English NHS during that period—both part- and full-time—with the number that were in full-time work in May 2017.

Overall, 59% of nurses who joined between May 2016 and May 2017 were in full-time employment at the end of that period.

However, this does not mean that the other 41% are leaving full-time work, as not all of them were full-time to begin with.

Not all nurses join NHS England as full-time staff

The figures Ms Thornberry was referring to were from NHS Digital and quoted by the government in October.

But as NHS Digital says, these “do not provide an accurate illustration of retention of nurses working full time in the NHS in England”.

The figures show that 59% of nurses who joined NHS England between May 2016 and May 2017 were in full-time employment at the end of that period. This means that 41% of new joiner nurses were not working full-time at the end of that period.

But it doesn’t mean that they all left full-time employment. Not all the newly recruited nurses necessarily began as full-time staff in the first place.

NHS Digital told us that 70% of nurses who joined the English NHS between May 2016 and May 2017 did so as full-time staff.

Compared to the 59% of new nurses in full-time employment at the end of that period, that’s a fall of 11 percentage points.

This fall of 11% still doesn’t tell us what proportion of nurses left full-time employment. It’s a net figure which will reflect both nurses leaving full-time work and part-time nurses increasing their hours to full-time.

Using separate figures we were given by NHS Digital, 15% of new nurses who began as full-time staff had left full-time work by May 2017.

These figures don’t just count staff who have one job with full-time hours though. A nurse who has multiple part-time nursing jobs with NHS England adding up to full-time hours is counted as a full-time worker. If a nurse has one or more part-time jobs that don’t add up to full-time hours then they are still considered part-time.

Is a full-time employment rate of 59% low?

65% of all NHS England nurses working in hospitals and community health services were full-time at the end of May 2017.

So a full-time employment rate of 59% among new joiners is 6 percentage points below the average rate for NHS England nurses overall.

The level of new nurses in full-time posts is roughly the same as it was in 2011. 60% of those who joined NHS England between May 2010 and May 2011 were in full-time posts by May 2011.

We don’t have figures for the years in between so we can’t say what the overall trend has been since then.

We’ve written more about the number of nurses in NHS England here.

Correction 19 December 2017

We changed the conclusion to say 41% of new nurses weren’t in full-time employment, rather than 41% of new nurses were working part-time.


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