Nurses, midwives and nursing associates are leaving the professions earlier than planned as official data shows the number registered to practise in the UK has grown to a record total of almost 789,000.
Annual data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council register showed a record 52,100 new joiners last year, almost half of whom were educated overseas.
However, while the number of nursing professionals leaving the register fell slightly, NMC research indicates that more than half left sooner than planned and most do not plan to return.
The number of people leaving the professions fell to just under 27,000, but more than half (52.1%) of those who left the register did so earlier than planned, with almost a quarter leaving much earlier than they had expected to.
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Most said they were unlikely to return, including younger leavers. The NMC found five factors that frequently influenced people’s decisions to leave.
Andrea Sutcliffe, NMC chief executive and registrar, said: “While recruitment remains strong, there are clear warnings about the workplace pressures driving people away from the professions.
“Many are leaving the register earlier than planned because of burnout or exhaustion, lack of support from colleagues, concerns about the quality of people’s care, workload and staffing levels.
“Our insight can support nursing and midwifery leaders across health and social care to focus on the right issues in their retention strategies. Addressing those issues must be a collaborative effort aimed at improving staff wellbeing and retention, for the benefit of everyone using services.”
The number of UK-educated joiners to the NMC register rose by 8.5% to more than 27,100. With international recruitment continuing at a significant rate, professionals educated around the world now account for one in five nurses, midwives and nursing associates who can practise in the UK.
Most international joiners are from outside Europe and tend to be more ethnically diverse. UK joiners are also increasingly diverse – almost a third of last year’s domestically-educated joiners are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Over the past year, the proportion of all registered professionals who are from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds has risen to 27.7%.
The Royal College of Nursing’s general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said: “These figures bear out our concerns over the failure to retain experienced staff… With half of all new starters coming from overseas, it is clear the UK government’s failure to deliver a domestic workforce plan is hitting home.
“While internationally educated nursing staff are a vital and valued part of the NHS, the overreliance on staff from overseas, including those countries with shortages of their own, is not sustainable.”
In the context of a global nursing shortage, the RCN also described the levels of international recruitment as “potentially unethical”.
Sutcliffe added: “Joiners are more ethnically diverse than ever. This matters because NHS research in England shows that black and minority ethnic staff are more likely to experience harassment, bullying or abuse.
“There’s also clear evidence that discrimination impacts on the quality of care professionals give, leading to worse health outcomes for people. Therefore it’s more important than ever for employers to foster inclusive cultures, free of the racism and discrimination that profoundly affect people from minority ethnic communities.”
In February 2023, figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) showed that the number of applicants to nursing courses in England was down 18% compared with the same point last year. By the January deadline, 27,370 people had applied to study nursing at course providers in England, compared with 33,410 at the same point last year.
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