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NMC raises concerns over ‘slowing growth’ of domestic nurses joining register

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The number of nurses joining the register from within the UK may be growing but likely not quickly enough to meet rising demand, the NMC has warned.

The mid-year registrant report from the nursing regulator covering between April and September this year, released today, showed the number of nurses and midwives eligible to practise in the UK, and nursing associates who can practise in England, has grown by 13,011 to 744,929.

The regulator pinpointed that 10,642 professionals signing up from outside Europe as ‘big driver’ of the growth. But numbers from the UK increased at a slower rate – 13,078 joiners, down from 14,410 in the same period last year. And 11,668 of them left the register, up from 9,339 the year before.

Andrea Sutcliffe, NMC chief executive, said it was ‘vital’ and ‘welcome’ that ‘professionals from outside Europe are making an increasingly big contribution to the growth of our register’, but added: ‘It’s concerning that the domestic picture is one of slowing growth.’

Ms Sutcliffe also raised concerns over ‘worrying signs this pace of growth won’t meet demand’ and warned against complacency despite the overall increase in registrants.

She added: ‘Health and care services are facing severe pressures as we head into winter. While nursing and midwifery professionals will do all they can to care for people, we know they are exhausted from coping with the impact of the pandemic.’

Overall, the data shows 11,331 more nurses across the UK, 1,156 more nursing associates (who work in England only) and 594 more midwives.

The figures also revealed 13,945 people left the register overall, compared to 11,020 during the same period in 2020. The last time that the number of leavers was higher was in 2017.

Of the newly registered international professionals, 4,436 trained in India and 3,040 trained in the Philippines. These countries now account for almost 10% of registrants.

Ms Sutcliffe also warned increasing numbers of nursing and midwifery professionals could leave the profession in the future if the healthcare system does not ‘work together to tackle the physical and mental pressure the pandemic is bringing to bear on the professions’.

She added: ‘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.’

Pat Cullen, RCN chief executive, highlighted concerns about the number of nurses leaving the register – which ‘has reached its highest point, in this time period, in almost five years’.

She continued: ‘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.’

The warning comes amid fears that mandatory Covid-19 vaccination, which will be introduced for all frontline health and social care employees in April 2022, will worsen staff shortages.