The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register shows more nurses and midwives than ever are eligible to work in the UK, but leaver surveys have raised concerns about employers’ retention strategies, the organisation has said.
There are now 788,638 professionals on the NMC register, with 52,148 new joiners between 2022-23, the highest number since the NMC was established in 2001.
The number of nurses eligible to practise in the UK grew by 3.8% year on year to 731,058, with 26,551 more nurses on the register than the year before.
The number of professionals leaving the register also fell slightly year on year, with 27,000 leaving in the year.
However, the NMC’s leavers survey for 2022-23 revealed several trends which have raised concerns over how employers can retain staff.
NMC chief executive and registrar Andrea Sutcliffe said that while recruitment remains strong, there are ‘clear warnings about the workplace pressures driving people away from the professions’.
Nurses and midwives told the NMC that they were leaving the register earlier than they had planned, and the majority (85%) said they would not be returning to the profession in the future.
Of those professionals who completed the survey, 52% said they had left earlier than planned. And while retirement was still the most common reason for leaving the register, 57% of leavers aged 61-65 also said they had left earlier than planned.
The NMC identified five ‘compounding factors’ that were frequently cited in people’s decision to leave the profession.
These were: burnout or exhaustion; lack of support from colleagues; concerns about the quality of people’s care; workload, and staffing levels.
Of the possible reasons given for retirement, ‘my physical or mental health’ and ‘burnout or exhaustion’ were the most commonly cited reasons for leaving the register.
Ms Sutcliffe said: ‘Many are leaving the register earlier than planned because of burnout or exhaustion, lack of support from colleagues, concerns about the quality of people’s care, workload and staffing levels.’
International recruitment forms half of new joiners
The newly-released NMC data for 2022-23 also shows the shifting profile of the nursing and midwifery workforce with more professionals being recruited from abroad and an increasingly ethnically diverse workforce.
While the number of professionals trained in the UK joining the workforce increased by 8.5%, almost half of new joiners to the register were trained internationally – 6.8% higher than the previous year.
One-fifth of all professionals on the NMC register are now internationally trained, with 76.8% of those professionals educated in India, the Philippines or Nigeria.
However, almost double the number of nurses educated in the Philippines left the register compared with previous years. Between 2022-23, 810 nurses educated in the Philippines left the register, compared with only 466 the previous year.
Responding to the figures, Wes Streeting MP, Labour’s shadow health secretary, commented that: ‘The government is bringing in record number of foreign recruits, including from countries on the World Health Organization red list, while turning away young British students from training to be doctors and nurses.
‘The NHS will always be an international workforce, and that is part of its strength. But the Conservatives’ approach is unfair to countries they poach from and to the British students denied a great career in the NHS.’
Likewise, RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said that the figures ‘bear out our concerns over the failure to retain experienced staff’.
‘With half of all new starters coming from overseas, it is clear the government’s failure to deliver a domestic workforce plan is hitting home. While internationally educated nursing staff are a vital and valued part of the NHS, the overreliance on staff from overseas, including those countries with shortages of their own, is not sustainable.’
Nurse prescriber numbers increase sharply
The NMC annual data also reveals a changing workforce in terms of field of practice.
The number of adult nurses, children’s nurses, and mental health nurses all rose around 3-4% respectively in the year. However, the number of learning disabilities nurses fell by 0.7%.
Additionally, while the number of nurses with a Nurse Independent/Supplementary Prescriber qualification increased by 49%, the number of specialist community and public health nurses fell very slightly by 0.6%.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, said: ‘It’s vital that we increase the NHS workforce further, and the government’s long-overdue plan to boost recruitment, retention and training of staff can’t come soon enough – and must be backed by significant funding.’