How do the NHS tackle employee retention in A&E units?

As any conscientious employer knows, keeping your employees happy is key to running a business successfully. After all, everyone works better and more productively when they’re satisfied with their work environment – and happy, fulfilled staff begets other happy, fulfilled staff. It’s a cycle we don’t want to lose out on so it can be crushing when our employee retention rates begin to fall.

There are any number of reasons why any organisation can lose employees to other employers – at best, it could mean your employee learnt a great deal while they were with you and has unfortunately maxed out their skillset at your company. Perhaps their excellent performance has led to them being headhunted for a particularly impressive role.

At worst, however, employees leaving your company could signal something more worrying, particularly if employees are leaving in large numbers. If your employee retention rate is falling rapidly, it could indicate something fundamentally wrong with the way your organisation is being run.

The NHS has an employee retention problem – could a new simulation deliver the answers?

Employee retention is an issue that our National Health Service (NHS) have found themselves struggling to combat.  A Guardian article in February 2019 claimed that record numbers of NHS staff were quitting because of a poor work-life balance and burnout. In fact, research by the Health Foundation thinktank found that the number of personnel leaving the NHS has almost trebled in the past seven years.  So, what is the problem?

A new interactive simulation by specialist lawyers Bolt Burdon Kemp has offered some explanation as to the NHS’s employee retention problem. The game called ‘Crisis Point: A Day in A&E’ challenges users to run a non-specific emergency department in the UK without dropping its status level.

The status level is based on the NHS’s OPEL system, where different levels represent safety levels within the department. In the game, Level 0 represents a healthy A&E department, where patient safety is not compromised while the lowest Level 3 indicates the department is in crisis, with patient safety at risk.

Addressing key staffing concerns in A&E

As you play the game, you’ll be asked to make decisions in terms of patient care, staffing and triage. The staffing questions, in particular, demonstrate the stretched resources and funding problems that have resulted in what’s popularly known as the ‘NHS Winter Crisis’. It also highlights a few other issues pertinent to working in A&E, such as

The patient-to-staff ratio is unbalanced and pushing patient safety

Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said there is currently a “horrendously understaffed” NHS with 103,000 vacancies, including 42,000 for nurses and 10,000 for doctors. A lack of qualified staff is an unacceptably dangerous situation in the emergency department. It could lead to critically-ill patients or complex conditions to be missed, neglected or misdiagnosed, simply because there aren’t enough staff to spend adequate time with each patient.

Patient attendance at A&E is only increasing

As a report by the Kings Fund made clear, data from NHS England has shown that occupancy across England had been at unmanageable levels for the majority of 2018. When you combine the fact that patient attendance figures at A&Es are increasing year-on-year and the number of NHS employees leaving the emergency departments is also on the rise, it adds up to a dire situation – both for the British public who need to use the emergency services and the employers within the NHS who are faced with what seems to be an insurmountable challenge.

A need for NHS reform

If they’re going to solve their employee retention problem – and provide the standard of care that patients deserve – the NHS needs to assess ways that they can make the working environment they offer more comfortable for their employees. An array of options are available – as long as the funds are there to explore them – including introducing flexible hours, shorter shifts or offering perks.

Whatever they do, it’s imperative that the lived experiences of A&E staff are taken into account when making operational decisions. As the Crisis Point game makes clear, the issues are numerous and the problems faced by even a single member of staff can have a ripple effect that can cause serious issues for both patients and the emergency department at large.