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More nurses and midwives leaving profession amid warning on pandemic pressures

The number of nurses and midwives leaving the professions has risen amid a warning more departures could follow without further efforts to tackle the pressures on both occupations brought on by the pandemic. Pic by Jane Barlow

By Aine Fox, PA

The number of nurses and midwives leaving the professions has risen amid a warning more departures could follow without further efforts to tackle the pressures on both occupations brought on by the pandemic.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) said the latest data showed that the overall number of people quitting the register has increased for the most recent period for the first time in four years.

The organisation’s mid-year registration data report showed that a total of 13,945 people left between April and September, compared with 11,020 in the same period last year.

The last time the total number of leavers was higher for the same six-month period was in 2017, the NMC said.

Data showed that the number of nurses and midwives eligible to practise in the UK, and nursing associates who can practise in England, has risen, with the register growing from 731,918 professionals to 744,929 in the six months to the end of September.

The figures include 11,331 more nurses across the UK.

The NMC said there are 1,156 more nursing associates – who bridge the gap between nurses and health and care assistants in England only – and there are 594 more midwives.

The number of people joining the register from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) has grown again after a drop during the pandemic, the NMC said.

Its report showed the number of people joining for the first time was 24,036 and of these, 10,642 were from outside the EEA – compared with just 2,107 during the same period in 2020.

There were 4,585 new joiners from outside the EEA in the six months to September 2019, the NMC said.

The organisation said professionals from India and the Philippines now account for almost 10% of nurses and midwives who can practise in the UK.

Of the newly registered international professionals, 4,436 trained in India and 3,040 trained in the Philippines.

The number of registered professionals from the UK has increased at a slower rate than before, with UK joiners at 13,078 between April and September, down from 14,410 in the same period last year.

A total of 11,668 people from the UK left, up from 9,339, the NMC said.

It added that the number aged 40 and under on the register increased by 3.8% to a total of 300,791, while the number of people at retirement age – over 55 – grew by 2.3% to a total of 158,061.

Andrea Sutcliffe, NMC chief executive and registrar, said health and care services are facing “severe pressures” as winter approaches and that nursing and midwifery professionals “are exhausted from coping with the impact of the pandemic”.

She said: “In these circumstances, I’m glad our latest registration data shows an increase in the numbers of nurses, midwives and nursing associates but we can’t be complacent. In the face of rising needs across the UK there are worrying signs this pace of growth won’t meet demand.

“Professionals from outside Europe are making an increasingly big contribution to the growth of our register. They make a vital and welcome difference to people’s health and wellbeing. But it’s concerning that the domestic picture is one of slowing growth, with fewer people from the UK joining the register, and more leaving.

“This highlights the need for national and local leaders to collaborate on a sustainable strategy to attract, support and retain nurses, midwives and nursing associates across health and social care.

“Even more urgently, we all need to work together to tackle the physical and mental pressure the pandemic is bringing to bear on the professions. If we don’t, I’m afraid we may see more nursing and midwifery professionals leave the register in the future.”

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson welcomed growth in the number of nursing and midwifery staff, but described the numbers leaving as “extremely concerning”.

He said: “We are entering an extremely difficult winter, with staff who are already exhausted. We desperately need a fully costed and funded workforce plan to ensure that the service has enough staff not only to fill existing vacancies, but to build flexibility into the system.

“This will help to secure national and local recruitment pipelines to the NHS, by ensuring sustainable workloads, development opportunities, and a better work/life balance.”

Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen echoed this call for a “long term, fully funded, health and care workforce plan”.

She said: “Health and care services are experiencing unsustainable pressures and this report suggests the workforce crisis is getting worse. Even though the register is growing, the number of nurses leaving it has reached its highest point, in this time period, in almost five years.

“We have warned that many experienced nurses reaching the end of their careers, who stayed in post to assist their colleagues and patients in the pandemic, would leave. Employers will now struggle to replace them when they are needed most.

“Ministers’ ill thought-through strategy of disproportionately relying on nurses from overseas because we aren’t keeping our experienced nurses, or growing enough of our own, isn’t good enough.”

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