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Labour supply decisions over doctors and nurses following maternity leave


More than three-quarters of all NHS employees, and 90% of registered nurses and midwives in England are women. Also, 48% of all doctors and dentists are women, and this rises to more than half for the under-50s. The majority of these women will become mothers during their careers. The extent to which women can combine work in the NHS with motherhood has important implications for recruitment, retention and hours of work. This study focused on the impact of maternity leave on the retention and hours of medical and nursing professionals.


2021 – 2022


NIHR Policy Research Programme


The study used NHS payroll data from the Electronic Staff Record (ESR) to analyse doctors’ and dentists’, and nurses’ and midwives’ retention and working patterns before and after maternity leave. It explored variation across professions, specialties, geographic areas, and individual NHS trusts. It also used data from the Ofsted register to examine whether mothers’ hours are higher in trusts with more on-site childcare.


Retention of doctors and nurses post-maternity leave in the NHS is high, but most doctors and nurses who return from maternity leave switch to working part-time and continue to do so when their children reach school age.

There are large differences between hospital trusts, and between medical specialties and areas of work. For doctors, the workforce impacts of maternity are very unevenly distributed among specialties, with female doctors in male-dominated specialties being less likely to go on maternity leave in the first place, and those who do go on maternity leave work more hours upon their return.

Details are contained in the study reports (see under Outputs below).


We presented and discussed research questions and findings at several stages of the process, with attendees from NHS England/Improvement, Health Education England, and the Department for Health and Social Care.

Project status: Completed