Nursing numbers continue to fall as the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) announced more nurses and midwives are leaving their register than joining.
Analysis data from the NMC register between 2012 and 2017, it was revealed that 20% more people left the NMC register in 2016-17 than joined – which is the first time this has happened in recent history.
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Looking among UK national nurses – who make up 85% of the register – 45% more of the total left the register than joined in the same period, indicating an unprecedented number of nursing staff turning away from the NHS.
NMC chief executive Jackie Smith said: ‘At a time of increased pressure on the healthcare workforce to deliver quality patient care, we hope our data will provide evidence to support the government and employers to look in detail at how they can reverse this trend.’
With the exception of retiring nurses, the average age of those leaving the register has reduced steadily from an average of 55 years old in 2013 to 51 years in 2017, showing that rates of leaving are increasing across all age groups below 60 years of age. This is particularly noticeable for those aged under 40, according to the NMC.
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In a survey of departing nurses conducted by the NMC, 44% blamed working conditions, 28% cited a change in personal circumstances and 27% said a disillusionment with the quality of care provided to patients were their reasons for leaving.
Surveying EU nurses who have opted to leave in the past year, following a vote in favour of the UK leaving the EU in June 2016, the NMC said 32% had been encouraged by Brexit to look for work elsewhere in the world.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) described the figures as ‘worrying’ as England is currently 3,500 midwives short. Policy director Jon Skewes said: ‘It is important to know what is driving this reduction.
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‘I have no doubt that the incredible pressures midwives are under due to increasing demands on services are a factor here. This combined with years of pay freezes and pay restraint has left our health professionals demoralised and disillusioned, and it is no surprise many are leaving.’
NHS Improvement is currently working with the Department of Health on a retention programme hoping to address why NHS staff are leaving and keep departure figures down.
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A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We are making sure we have the nurses we need to continue delivering world-class patient care — that's why there are almost 13,100 more on our wards since May 2010 and 52,000 in training.
‘We also know we need to retain our excellent nurses and last week we launched a national programme to ensure nurses have the support they need to continue their vital work.’