New figures from NHS Digital show that one in 10 nurses in England are leaving the NHS each year, with 33,000 leaving in 2017 alone.
The numbers mean there are now more nurses leaving than joining the profession, with 3,000 more people leaving than joining in 2017. This pattern is mirrored when looking at EU nurses alone, with more of those from the EU now leaving than joining the NHS since the Brexit referendum in 2016.
But in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the number of joiners still outnumbers those leaving, despite the rate of nurses leaving in those countries rising.
The total number of nurses leaving the profession would be enough to staff ‘more than 20 average-sized hospital trusts’, according to a report by the BBC.
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The BBC also report that nurses are being taken off extra activities such as research and special projects to help fill the shortfall in staff.
More than half of those leaving were under 40. Just fewer than 30% were in the 40-54 age bracket, with the remaining leavers aged 55 and over.
Chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing Janet Davies described the latest figures as a ‘dangerous and downward spiral’.
Speaking to the BBC, she said: ‘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.’
But chief nursing officer Professor Jane Cummings said that NHS England are introducing ‘ambassadors’ to promote the profession.
‘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,’ she said.
The new data from NHS Digital follows research last year from the King’s Fund, which found that the number of nurses and health visitors fell for the first time year-on-year since 2013.
Previous NHS Digital figures from August also demonstrated that the crisis was hitting primary care, with a 2% drop in the number of nurses working in general practice.
In December, UCAS revealed that the number of applications to nursing degree courses fell by 18%, a drop the organisation described as ‘the biggest on record’.