The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called for the government to take ‘immediate action’ to stop a worrying exodus of staff from the profession.
A new report published by the RCN today (13 February) reveals that between 2018 and 2022, almost 43,000 employees between the ages of 21 and 50 left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register, suggesting younger staff are quitting the profession.
The report, Valuing Nursing in the UK, showed an overall increase in people leaving the register of 9% from 2020-21 on the previous year, and a further increase of 3% in 2022.
Fewer nurses are joining the profession, furthermore. Last week, figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) showed that applications for nursing courses in England fell by 19% last year.
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said the findings of the research “speak volumes about the dire state that ministers have allowed nursing to fall into through years of underfunding and neglect”.
Nursing degree applications fall 19%
“We aren’t only losing a record number of experienced nurses from the NHS, we’re also going to have less joining the profession. This can only mean even more vacancies in the future.
“Negligence towards addressing vacancies is having a devastating impact on patient care and is why our members took to picket lines in England again last week.”
The RCN went ahead with strikes at 73 NHS trusts in England on 6-7 February, and dates for new, two-day strikes are expected to be announced in the coming days.
Cullen has indicated that new strikes could include members working in emergency departments, intensive care and cancer wards. The organisation has scaled back pay demands from 19% earlier this year, to indications it could accept a 7% increase – on a par with what was offered to nursing staff in Wales, where strikes have been suspended.
NHS bodies are now lobbying the government to open pay talks with the RCM to avert what they call an “alarming” escalation of strikes.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers said: “The walkouts have led to 137,000 appointments being postponed so far, with nearly 50,000 of those being from Monday and Tuesday last week alone.
“A continuous 48-hour strike that includes staff from emergency departments, intensive care units and cancer care services would likely have the biggest impact on patients we’ve seen.”
In addition to improving pay, the RCN report calls for the government to deliver “fully funded health and care workforce plans”, to publish independent assessments of health and care workforce requirements in line, and to enshrine in law accountability for workforce planning in nursing.
In the report, nurses complain of insufficient staffing levels to ensure patient safety, harassment and discrimination in the workplace, a lack of career progression and unsafe working conditions.
Cullen added: “Ministers cannot blame the pandemic and other winter pressures for the crisis unfolding before our eyes – this has been a long time in the making yet the government has consistently ignored clear signs. They must offer fair pay rises to help stop the exodus.”
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