The Nursing and Midwifery Council has warned that a record annual growth in nurse numbers, revealed in figures released today, may not be sustainable after Covid-19 because of a reliance on overseas nurses.
The regulatory body has registered around 18,000 more nurses, midwives and nursing associates since last year – the largest ever annual increase, from 698,237 on 1 April 2019 to 716,607 on 31 March 2020.
However, NMC chief executive Andrew Sutcliffe has cautioned there might be ‘stormy waters ahead’ for nurse numbers because of the potential difficulties recruiting overseas nurses after the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said: ‘As a result of the pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions, we may no longer be able to rely on the flow of professionals joining our register from overseas in the same way.
‘Going forwards, the significant growth we’ve seen recently may not be sustained,’ she added.
In its report on the findings, the NMC said the workforce growth had been primarily driven by nurses joining from outside of Europe. Only around 9,012 of those who signed up this year were from the UK.
At the same time, the number of nurses and midwives on the NMC’s permanent register from outside Europe has risen by 11,008.
Almost half of the total growth comes from people who originally trained in the Philippines and India, rising by 8,944 from 48,359 in March 2019 to 57,303 in March 2020.
The number of professionals from within Europe continued to decline, dropping by a further 5% from 33,035 last year to 31,385 this year.
Overall, the number of nurses on the register increased from 653,544 in March 2019, to 669,854 in March 2020. The number of midwives had gone up from 36,916 to 37,918 and the number of nursing associates in England had risen from 489 to 1,693, while dual registrants (nurse and midwife) dropped from 7,288 to 7,142.
As part of today’s report, the NMC also surveyed more than 6,000 professionals to find out why they had left the register.
The survey, carried out before coronavirus took hold, showed the top reason cited for leaving before retirement was too much pressure leading to stress or poor mental health.
Staff who signed up for the Covid-19 temporary register were not counted in overall numbers on the NMC’s permanent register.
Since its launch in March this year, numbers on the temporary register have nearly doubled from 7,658 at the end of March 2020 to more than 14,000.