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Too few nurses qualifying to replace those leaving in UK, finds WHO

Too few nurses qualifying to replace those leaving in UK, finds WHO

The UK has a high proportion of nurses approaching retirement age, and a comparatively low number of nurses qualifying and entering the profession to replace them, research has highlighted.

The World Health Organization (WHO) report on the healthcare workforce across Europe, published this week, identified that 23.4% of nurses in the UK are over the age of 55.

At the same time, it showed that the annual number of nursing graduates per 100,000 population in the UK was only 31, below the European average of 36.6 and less than half as many as countries such as Romania (96), Albania (82) and Finland (82).

‘European countries must now prioritize their health and care workers (HCWs) by investing more and investing smarter,’ the report said.

‘They must protect their health and care workforce (HCWF) by implementing policies that place the interests and well-being of healthcare workers at the forefront.

‘Healthcare workers inspired everyone during the pandemic with their commitment and it is now time to place them not only at the centre of the health policy agenda, but also at the heart of economic and social recovery.’

The report recommended 10 actions to help address health and care workforce challenges across Europe:

  1. Align education with population needs and health service requirements
  2. Strengthen continuing professional development to equip the workforce with new knowledge and competencies
  3. Expand the use of digital tools that support the workforce
  4. Develop strategies that attract and retain health workers in rural and remote areas
  5. Create working conditions that promote a healthy work-life balance
  6. Protect the health and mental well-being of the workforce
  7. Build leadership capacity for workforce governance and planning
  8. Strengthen health information systems for better data collection and analysis
  9. Increase public investment in workforce education, development and protection
  10. Optimise the use of funds through innovative workforce policies

Pat Cullen, RCN chief executive, said the report ‘highlights the crisis the country faces with too many nurses poised to retire and too few coming into the system’.

‘Ministers across the UK must take note. Urgent investment in nursing must include fair pay and measures to boost the domestic workforce, such as funding tuition fees.’

Ms Cullen added: ‘This report calls for nursing staff and other healthcare workers to be put at the centre of the economic and social recovery after the pandemic – fair pay is a simple way to recruit and retain nursing staff and keep patients safe.’

The RCN has delayed its industrial action ballot over pay and related campaigning out of respect, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

The NMC annual report for 2021-22, published earlier this year, showed the register of nurses, midwives and nursing associates grew by 26,403 to 758,303.

However, the number of those leaving the register also rose by 3,199 to 27,133, an increase of 13% on the year before. When asked why they left, the most common answer was retirement (43%).

The RCN has recently warned of other indications that fewer nurses are joining the workforce, including an 8% fall in UCAS applications to UK nursing programmes and acceptances onto nursing courses down 7% this year.

Latest official vacancy data already shows 46,828 full-time equivalent nursing vacancies as of June 2022, a vacancy rate of 11.8%.