UK nurse numbers falling: working conditions one of top reasons

4 July 2017

For the first time in recent history more nurses and midwives left the United Kingdom workforce than joined, new figures from the UK's Nursing and Midwifery Council reveal.

In a statement released yesterday the UK's NMC said the trend was not due to fewer European Union nurses joining the register in the lead-up to Brexit but more UK-trained nurses and midwives leaving.  It also follows the introduction by the NMC in April 2016 of a new revalidation process similar to New Zealand's ongoing competency requirements*.

The figures show that the number of registered nurses and midwives peaked in March 2016 at 692,556 and since then has dropped by just over 5000 people.  The age of people leaving the register has also reduced from an average of 55 year in 2013 to 51 years in 2017 – with a notable increase in people leaving under the age of 40.

Council chief executive Jackie Smith said 4500 nurses and midwives responded to a survey in June about why they had left the register over the previous 12 months. About half of the respondents said they were retiring and for the other 2240 the top reasons for leaving were:

  • working conditions (44%) including issues such as staffing levels
  • a change in personal circumstances (26%) including ill health or caring responsibilities)
  • a disillusionment with the quality of care provided to patients (26%)
  • Concerns about meeting revalidation requirements (26%)*
  • Poor pay and benefits (16%)

The statistics show that 85 per cent of the UK nursing and midwifery workforce is UK-trained but since 2013-14 the number of UK new graduates registering has fallen (from a peak of 22,728 to 20,240) and the number leaving has increased with a particularly steep increase in the past 15 months.  The number of new registrants from the European Union had been increasing and peaked last year at 9,389 but then dropped this year and there has been a slight increase in the numbers leaving.

The number of UK-trained nurses and midwives seeking verification of their registration to allow them to work overseas also increased slightly making up 74% of all requests in 2016-17 compared to 69% in 2013.  The overall number of verification requests went up slightly from 3562 in 2012-13 to 4153 in 2016-17 with the most common requests coming from nursing registration authorities in Australia, the Republic of Ireland and the USA.   (In comparison verification requests for New Zealand nurses heading overseas peaked at 1500 in 2012-13 and was 1279 last year from a workforce of just 54,000 nurses compared to the UK's 690,773.)

*Revalidation is the new NMC renewal system introduced in April 2016 to ensure nurses and midwives can demonstrate that they remain effective and up to date in their professional practice. The NMC says the number of nurses and midwives leaving the register during the first year of revalidation is in line with numbers leaving the register under the previous registration renewal system. 

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