The head of the Nursing and Midwifery Council has said she is more concerned about nurses in their 40s who are leaving the profession than those departing closer to retirement, as the regulator released a report showing its register has shrunk in size for the first time in recent history.
She also suggested that if significant numbers of nurses and midwives continued to depart, the regulator would have to look at whether annual registration fees needed to increase.
”You’d expect people between 51 and 60 to be leaving as we have an ageing workforce, but the nurses and midwives in their 40s leaving is a surprise”
The NMC chief said it was “not a surprise” that there had been an increase in the past year in the number of nurses and midwives in their 50s leaving the register - because the profession had an ageing workforce.
A higher number of registrants at this age would therefore be expected to leave due to retirement, she said.
However, she told Nursing Times that “what worries [her] most” is those mid-career nurses in their 40s who were choosing to exit the register.
The NMC has released figures today showing that between 2016 and 2017, 20% more people left the register than joined it.
This is the first time this has happened in recent history and has caused the register to shrink – from a total of 692,556 registrants in March 2016, to 690,773 in March 2017.
Across all age groups there has been an increase in the number leaving in the past year.
Among those aged between 41 and 50 years old, around 3,500 people have left the register each year since 2013 – until 2017 when this jumped to about 4,700.
An NMC survey has revealed 44% of those who did not leave due to retirement said it was because of working conditions, including staffing levels.
”This trend of leavers may be reversed as we go through the year, but we just don’t know, we are examining the data daily”
“What worries me most is those 40 year olds leaving the register. You’d expect people aged between 51 and 60 to be leaving as we have an ageing workforce, but the nurses and midwives in their 40s leaving is a surprise,” NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith told Nursing Times.
“This trend of leavers may be reversed as we go through the year, but we just don’t know, we are examining the data daily,” she said.
She also said it was “not a surprise” that a number of people from the survey cited revalidation as the reason for leaving the register as it was likely many nurses had not completed the required number of practice hours to maintain their registration under the new system.
”If we continue to take this direction and we lose significant numbers of nurses, we would have to consider our financial position”
When asked by Nursing Times whether the government’s pay cap – which restricts annual public sector pay rises to 1% - was to blame for nurses leaving the register, she said it was not clear.
“I am being asked if this is as a direct result of the pay cap. The truth is we have absolutely no idea. Nurses are telling us pay and working conditions are making them leave the register,” she said.
She stressed it was important for organisations to work together to reverse the trends.
Nursing Times asked whether the decline in the size of the register meant the NMC would need to increase the fee nurses and midwives pay to the regulator every year – because the majority of its income comes from that money.
“We have already decided the registration fee [for this year]. But if we continue to take this direction and we lose significant numbers of nurses, we would have to consider our financial position,” said Ms Smith.