The analysis showed qualified nurses and midwifes had the second highest one-year retention rate in 2016-17 at 92% – above the UK workforce average at 83% and the overall rate for the public sector at 84%.
“When people move on, employers can lose knowledge, experience and institutional memory”
The profession was just behind the police, which had a one-year retention rate of 94% in 2016-17 and ahead of the medical profession at 89%.
However, the report – based on data from the Annual Population Survey – showed nursing assistants or auxiliaries came lower down with 86% remaining in the role from 2016 to 2017, just below the rate for social workers.
The retention rates analysed in the report are different to retention data collected by trusts because they show people who have stayed in the same workforce sector in a similar role or occupation for one year.
This means that a nurse who stayed in nursing but moved to a job at another trust would be counted as being retained.
Meanwhile, a nurse who left a permanent role to work as an agency nurse would also count as retained if they continued to work in the public sector for the NHS or a local authority.
“Most of the larger public sector occupations, including doctors, nurses and midwives, and primary school teachers, have a one-year retention rate above the UK workforce average,” said ONS statistician Anna Bodey.
The analysis showed the one-year retention rate for nurses and midwives in 2016-17 was on a par with heads of educational establishments but higher than primary and secondary school teachers and university lecturers.
While the overall public sector retention rate was fractionally higher than the private sector, the data suggested it had dropped in recent years with the biggest fall in retention rates seen among social workers and care workers.
The one-year retention rate for nurses and midwives dropped two percentage points from 94% in 2012-13 to 92% in 2016-17 while the rate for nursing assistants fell more steeply from 92% to 86% over the same period.
“Recruiting and training new people costs time and money”
The retention rate for social workers fell from 96% to 87% and the rate for care workers dropped from 79% to 67%.
The statistics showed differences in retention rates for people of different ages with younger nurses and midwives more likely to stay in their profession.
In 2016-17 the one-year retention rate for nurses and midwives aged 18 to 34 was 96% but went down to 91% for those aged 35 to 49 and 90% for those aged 50 to 60.
For nursing assistants aged 18 to 34 the retention rate was 93% but went down to 86% for both older age groups.
There were also slight differences linked to nurses’ employment status. The one-year retention rate in 2016-17 for nurses and midwives on permanent contracts was 92% compared with 89% for those on a non-permanent footing.
While having a flow of different people in and out of a sector can be positive the report also stressed the importance of retaining staff.
“Sometimes changing career leads to exciting opportunities, and new people can bring fresh perspective, new ideas and expertise to the workplace. But when people move on, employers can lose knowledge, experience and institutional memory,” said the report.
Retention was important for efficiency and when it came to securing value for money, it added.
“Recruiting and training new people costs time and money. The government invests in supporting the training for many of the largest public sector occupations, which means retaining those staff is important for giving value for money,” the report stated.