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Nurse retention and long-run NHS workforce challenges

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Increasing the size of the NHS workforce is a key policy pledge, as set in the Conservative Manifesto at the December 2019 General Election. This includes both recruiting new medical workers and improving the retention of existing NHS staff. The urgency of this has only increased in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, with likely negative effects on the morale of existing staff and huge backlogs in care that will need to be addressed in the aftermath of the crisis.

Pay is an important lever in attracting and keeping staff, but is subject to tight regulations within the NHS. In new IFS work, as part of the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce, we explore the flexibility of the current pay system and its ability to address differences in the local cost of living across the country. Using detailed administrative data on the earnings and labour supply decisions of all nurses working in NHS hospitals between 2012 and 2018, we study how nurses and trusts react to changes in local house prices prior to the pandemic. At this event we will explore the findings of this research, and discuss what this means for NHS pay policy and the retention of NHS staff. 

We will then be joined by James Buchan (Senior Visiting Fellow, Health Foundation), who will examine the longer term challenges faced by the NHS in finding sufficient nursing staff to meet the sharply rising demand for healthcare, and potential policy solutions to this challenge. 

This event will be chaired by IFS Director Paul Johnson, and there will be plenty of time for questions at the end.


This event will take place online. The live-stream video will appear at the top of this page.


This research is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Policy Research Programme, through the Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce, PR-PRU-1217-21202. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

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