Nurses are exiting the NHS in droves, with one in 10 leaving in England each year, figures from NHS Digital show.
More than 33,000 nurses left the health service last year, increasing the strain on already stretched hospital services as demand exceeds supply.
Speaking to the BBC, which initially asked for the figures, Janet Davies, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘The government must lift the NHS out of this dangerous and downward spiral.
‘We are haemorrhaging nurses at precisely the time when demand has never been higher. The next generation of British nurses aren’t coming through just as the most experienced nurses are becoming demoralised and leaving.’
The figures show that more than 10% of nurses have left the NHS in each of the past three years – this equates to enough staff to run ‘20 average-sized hospital trusts’, the BBC reports.
Over half of those who left NHS employment last year were below 40, stoking fears of staffing shortages in the years to come. Moreover, a fifth (20.3%) of leavers were over 55, meaning both new recruits and experienced nurses are heading for the door.
Making matters worse is the impact Brexit might be having on the enrolment of EU nursing staff. Registrations to work in the UK from EU nurses has already fallen by around 90% since the Brexit vote. This, coupled with diminishing domestic supply, may pose a serious problem for staffing within the health service in the future.
The number of nurses leaving the NHS surpassed those joining it by 3000 last year. This was the biggest workforce gap since 2012.
Anne Pearson, Director of Programmes of the Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI), said: ‘All employers need to take responsibility for these figures. At the very least they should be finding out exactly why staff are leaving and work to address the issues.’
‘Our research indicates that a range of factors are at play – for example inflexible shift patterns that are incompatible with family life.’
Pearson also cited ‘relationships with managers and colleagues’ as well as issues surrounding ‘unpaid overtime’ that ‘leads staff to feel taken advantage of’ as reasons for nurses leaving.
‘Nurses are passionate about caring and many say they do not enter the profession for the pay, but with rising living costs they have seen real wages fall and if people are not happy at work, they are more likely to seek employment elsewhere.’
Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer for England, accepted there was a problem, but said: ‘We're in the process of bringing in lots of nurse ambassadors that are going to be able to talk about what a great role it is, to be able to tell their story, so we can really encourage people to enter the profession and for those in the profession, to stay in it.’