Employment

500 nurses and midwives are quitting every week

New figures also reveal the NHS’s increasing reliance on nurses and midwives trained overseas.

Almost 40,000 vacancies for registered nurses went unfilled by the end of 2021. Image: Photo by SJ Objio on Unsplash

The number of nurses and midwives quitting their jobs has risen for the first time in four years, with new data revealing an average of 500 are leaving every week. 

While the overall number of nurses and midwives in the UK grew, 27,000 workers left last year – a 13 per cent increase from 2020.

Too much pressure and poor workplace cultures were the most common reasons given by those leaving nursing, while more than a third said the pandemic influenced their decision.

The new data also highlights the UK’s increasing reliance on nurses from overseas, who now make up half of all newly trained nurses joining the profession.

Travel restrictions introduced during the pandemic meant the number of internationally trained nurses and midwives fell sharply in 2020, but the number then increased last year, with over 23,000 internationally trained nurses joining the register – 66 percent of whom trained in India or the Philippines.

Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive and registrar at the NMC cautioned that overreliance on professionals from abroad could leave the UK vulnerable to a severe shortage of nurses if another pandemic or global crisis disrupted international recruitment.  

“The growth of the workforce has become more reliant on internationally trained professionals joining our register. These professionals make a welcome and vital contribution to our nation’s health and wellbeing. But we can’t take them for granted,” she said. 

The data applies to all nurses on the nursing register – a large majority of which will work for the NHS. The Royal College of Nurses has called for “radical action” to “boost the nursing workforce”.

“We again question how sustainable it is to recruit half of all new nurses from around the world. The UK’s health and care workforce is proudly diverse, but it must be done ethically and come at the same time as increased investment in education and domestic workers,” said Pat Cullen, general secretary of the RCN. 

“In the interests of safe patient care, ministers across the UK must act decisively to retain today’s experienced nurses and inspire tomorrow’s,” she continued. 

Commenting on the new figures, Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton called on ministers to “ensure the reality of NHS work doesn’t push new ​recruits into less pressured and better paid work outside the health service.” 

“Without an urgent retention package, including an above-inflation pay rise, the NHS will be unable to stem the tide of leavers and waiting lists will continue to grow.”

NHS staff were due their annual pay rise on April 1, however the rate is still being debated. Unison is calling for an inflation-busting pay rise, while the Royal College of Nursing is seeking a pay award of 5 per cent above inflation, which has hit a 40-year-high of 9 per cent. 

Overall, the number of nurses and midwives on the register grew by 26,403 to 758,303. Sajid Javid, the health and social care secretary, welcomed the increase. 

“I’m determined to continue growing the workforce to help us tackle the Covid backlog and reduce waiting lists, and we are on track to deliver 50,000 more nurses by 2024, with over 30,000 more working in the NHS since September 2019,” he said.

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