The NHS has been under strain for the past few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing demand for healthcare services, an ageing population, patients’ complex health conditions and a lack of funding and resources. This has led to a number of challenges.

The retention of staff has never been more important. In addition, organisations need to have a diverse leadership team that reflects their communities. Earlier this year, the NHS released new figures which showed that more than two fifths (42%) of doctors, dentists, and consultants, and almost a third (29.2%) of nurses, midwives, and health visitors are from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

While the figures also show an increase in representation at board level – including in executive board roles – BME staff still remain proportionally under-represented in senior positions, which is why more work needs to be done for the senior BME representation to be reflective of their overall workforce.

The role staff engagement plays

Staff engagement plays a huge role in both staff retention and improving diversity. Research has found that the more positive the experiences of staff within an NHS Trust, the better the outcomes for that Trust. Staff engagement has many significant associations with staff absenteeism and turnover, as well as patient satisfaction, patient mortality and infection rates. A lot of factors impact staff engagement, with the main ones being:

  • Good staff management
  • Well-structured appraisals and supportive line management
  • Learning opportunities.

The research outlined that NHS employees need to have the information necessary to help them do their jobs well – this includes offering learning opportunities, providing feedback along the way to build their confidence and supporting staff to innovate and develop new and improved ways of providing patient care through trust in their supervisors and leaders.

Focusing on learning and development in health and care

A way to solve the retention problem is by developing and training staff already working within the NHS to gain the accreditation needed for leadership roles. The Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship offered by Arden University, for example, is ideal for developing managers or those transitioning into their first management role within their organisations. The course has been designed to be relevant for health and care-based professionals who are currently employed in the field, such as those working within NHS Trusts, social care, primary care, private clinics, charitable sectors, wider health professions and local councils.

Covering topics such as strategy, leading teams and organisations, financial management and managing digital transformation, these courses allow NHS employees to develop a strong skillset and mindset that reflects the sector’s current and future needs. This not only helps employees to develop their career and give them the confidence to move into leadership roles, but it also helps them feel more purpose-driven within their role and, as a result, more likely to stay at the organisation.

Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust has been working on retention. Heather Morris, placement lead at Walsall Healthcare, explained how the Trust was trying to retain staff while also expanding staff knowledge about leadership and management.

She told us: “We wanted to expose our staff to different areas across the Trust to expand their knowledge on what leadership within the NHS would look like.

“Our aim was to support our staff and to make sure that they are given every opportunity to progress within their career in a way that suits them.”

Why flexible learning is key

A good way to do this is via apprenticeship degrees. This not only means that the course will be free for the learner, as the employer pays for it, but it means they don’t need to leave their job in order to study. But, of course, as health and care is a demanding role, so degrees need to be flexible when supporting NHS staff.

Heather added: “When looking at supporting colleagues’  learning and development, we needed to make sure the degree learning model was flexible. We also wanted to ensure our staff had the chance to speak with a coach every month for support. Degrees can be quite intense, especially after being out of education for so long, so we wanted to ensure our staff were getting the amount of support they needed.”

Speaking to Tim Farrington, Orthodontic and Maxillofacial Technician at Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust, who has been working for the NHS for the past 27 years, he explains how he had been looking for a way to develop his skills to progress his career. He told us: “I’ve been looking for courses to develop my career for a long time. My partner and I have five children, which means outside of work I am incredibly busy. I needed a course which was flexible and affordable.

“Doing an online apprenticeship degree, therefore, was ideal for me. It allowed me to fit my development around my work and family life.”

Tim said that having Aspergers and Dyslexia meant having a course that still allowed communication and chances for re-evaluation with course leaders was important.

He added: “I wanted to be as prepared as possible and have the right tools to do the job effectively. There haven’t been courses like this for the last 10-15 years in the hospital – it’s opening up huge opportunities.”

Utilising apprenticeship degrees could act as a huge step for retaining staff and opening up diversity at senior level. NHS Trusts can also use their apprenticeship levy to fund this development for staff – making it an easy option for progressing careers and the Trust.

The contextualised course Walsall Health NHS Trust employees have joined are supplied by Arden University and are: the Level 7 Senior Leader Apprenticeship plus Executive MBA contextualised Health and Care Programme and the Level 6 Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, BSc (Hons) Health and Care Management (CMI).