This morning, the NHS released its latest workforce statistics. After last month’s quarterly figures revealed a dire state of affairs – with record numbers of clinical staff leaving citing poor work-life balance – teeth were gritted for more sombre statistics.

But this month’s analysis (relating to the workforce as of January 2019) show a slight upturn in overall staffing numbers. Across England, a 0.6% increase in overall staff was recorded – a total of 7,601 additional people.

This is, in many ways, encouraging. More NHS staff that ever are deciding to leave the profession, finding the pressures untenable. The response of Trusts and NHS England to the staffing crisis has shifted in recent months, with more concerted efforts being taken to recruit and retain clinicians. Hopefully, these latest figures are the beginning of a trend; the additional staff our health service so desperately needs, rather than a statistical blip or knee-jerk reaction to falling staff numbers amongst increased pressures.

Recent reports of hospitals laying on better support for clinicians feeling the pressure, such as yoga sessions, food and drink during night shifts, and mindfulness classes, are also welcome signs of a shift within the NHS when it comes to working culture. Because the more staff we can retain, the better care patients receive and the more money that can be diverted into infrastructure, training and patient care instead of emergency staffing.

Because whilst we must see an increase in clinical staff in order to handle the ever increasing NHS workload, long-term energy must be focused on retention, not gap filling.

We cannot hope to reverse the trend when it comes to retaining staff unless we fundamentally rethink how the NHS acts as an employer. The dichotomy of full time work versus locuming must be dismantled. Introducing accessible options for flexible working by empowering the hospital bank, reducing reliance on agencies, and reviewing our approach to training will all help create a healthier working environment for clinicians and recoup crucial resources currently flooding to agencies.

Every clinician is a vital contributor to the overall success of our health service. An upturn in overall numbers is therefore welcome, but fundamental changes to the foundations of how we recruit, train and retain our clinical staff cannot come soon enough.

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