The Higher Education Statistics Agency destination of leavers survey showed there were 770 unemployed recent graduates in 2005–2006, compared with 418 in 2002–2003 – an increase of 82%.
The number of newly qualified staff working outside the profession six months after graduating increased by 72%, from 151 to 260.
The findings were obtained by the Liberal Democrats in a parliamentary question.
Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat health spokesperson, said: ‘Having trained for years at taxpayers’ expense, many nurses and midwives are now unable to find jobs. This will have a terrible effect on already crumbling staff morale and send a worrying signal to patients when the workload on many wards remains high.
He added: ‘It’s time for the government to put in place a long-term workforce strategy that prevents this feast-or-famine approach to NHS recruitment.’
RCN general secretary Peter Carter said: ‘With 180,000 nurses due to retire in the next decade and immigration restrictions on overseas nurses in place, the NHS simply cannot afford to lose new blood. Yo-yo recruitment policies are no substitute for sound workforce planning.’
Naomi Baker, RCN student member of council, said: ‘I am hearing of people sending out CV after CV to 20 hospitals but only getting answers back from one of them.’
But Nina Fleming, RCN steward at University Hospitals of North Staffordshire NHS Trust, said: ‘The students coming through are getting jobs – they are quite positive they will come out with a job.’