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Decline in nursing workforce sparks fresh call for urgent action


Academics and unions have called for an urgent government response to latest figures confirming that fewer nurses are joining the NHS than leaving it.

The comments were made in response to NHS Digital figures that showed one in 10 nurses were leaving the NHS in England each year, with more than 33,000 leaving last year.

“Each time the strain ratchets up again, they are the ones who bear the brunt of it”

Janet Davies

Covering the period 2012-13 to 2016-17, the data showed that leavers outnumbered joiners by 3,000 last year, according to the BBC, which collated and analysed the figures.

It adds to warnings made throughout the second half of last year, after it was revealed in July that more nurses and midwives were leaving register than joining it for the first time in recent history.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council’s register shrunk in size from 692,556 registrants in March 2016, to 690,773 in March 2017, and 20% more people left the register than joined it.

A survey conducted by the NMC at the same time identified working conditions, including issues such as staffing levels, as the main driver for nurses to leave the profession.

Further figures, published in November, showed nurses and midwives were continuing to leave the profession at a greater rate than they were joining, highlighting “major” staffing challenges.

Responding to today’s stories on the BBC, the Royal College of Nursing warned of a “dangerous and downward” spiral, and described the NHS Digital figures as “disappointing, but not surprising”.

Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “Most patient care is given by NHS nurses and, each time the strain ratchets up again, they are the ones who bear the brunt of it.

“We already know there are 40,000 unfilled nurse jobs in England and things continue to head in the wrong direction,” she said, citing figures collected last year by the college.

Janet davies

Janet davies

Janet Davies

The RCN called on the government to “urgently” give nurses a meaningful pay rise above inflation this year, increase training place numbers and support career development.

Meanwhile, Unison head of health Sara Gorton noted that the pressure on the NHS was “at an all time high”, with trusts struggling with a lack of beds, staff and flu cases over the past few weeks.

“New recruits are quickly realising that the demands placed on them are unrealistic and overwhelming,” she said. “More experienced nurses are also leaving due to heavy workloads and the ongoing pay restraint.

“The government needs to ensure nursing is an attractive career option by supporting new recruits, and rewarding those currently doing the job,” said Ms Gorton.

Nurse educators responded to the figures by both calling for the reinstatement of the student bursary and also funding for new routes into nursing and continuing professional development.

“This is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed”

David Willett

David Willett, corporate director at the Open University, said the focus should be the development of nursing degree apprenticeships that are set to be funded through a tax or “levy” on trusts.

He said: “With a significant fall in the number of applications to universities for nursing places down 23% since the introduction of student loans and Brexit threatening the supply of workers from overseas, this is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed.

“As the biggest contributor to the apprenticeship levy, NHS leaders need to ensure the funding is used effectively,” he said.

“It offers the opportunity to address the shortfall, if they use their levy to fund new nursing degree apprenticeships, which could help to ease the strain by developing new nurses and increasing retention rates,” he added.

Brian Boag, associate dean of Salford University’s school of health, said: “The number of nurses leaving the NHS presents the issues that are facing modern nursing in a very stark way.

University of Salford

Salford appoints interim dean for nursing school

Brian Boag

“Once a nurse qualifies, there is a range of careers available and nurses are now taking on more and more extended roles that improve the quality of care provided,” he said. “They are working in a much more collaborative way and increasing their skills and talents way beyond the traditional image of nursing.

“We hope the government recognises this and reviews the current lack of funding they provide to nurses who wish to enhance their skills, as nurses taking on differing roles can only lead to improved outcomes for the most vulnerable and sick in our society,” he said.

He added: “Nurses need the opportunity to develop and feel valued in their work as this can only increase the amount of staff who wish to stay in the profession.”

In November, responding to ongoing concerns about staffing, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans for a new national workforce strategy designed to help secure the long-term supply of nurses and doctors for the NHS.

The “robust, co-ordinated workforce plan”, due to be revealed and in place this year, will be the first time there has been an over-arching workforce strategy for the NHS since the early 2000s.


Readers' comments (14)

  • I am a RGN. We nurses nurse, because it is within us to do the role. We work tirelessly for most of our shifts. Expectations are high of us. It is a shame to read about health care at present. I trained in the 1980's.Do Do I think the NHS was thriving then. Yes.

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  • I will say it again regarding nurse shortage.
    1. IELTS is corrupt it’s based on BS level. Take it out of colleges and bring it into the NHS to run and assess.
    2. Nurses are doing none nursing jobs who are poorly trained in certain subjects.
    3. Matrons need to get there hands dirty and come out from behind the computer and office.
    4. Get rid of the bullies.

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  • Pay needs to increase by 8% this year and 4% in 2 years to catch up.

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  • Brilliant News! Everything is going according to plan as far as the government is concerned 😈

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    On 31 March 2017 there were 690,773 nurses and midwives on the register
    On 31 March 2016 there were 692,556 nurses and midwives on the register
    On 31 March 2015 there were 686,811 nurses and midwives on the register
    On 31 March 2014, there were 680,899 nurses and midwives on the register
    On 31 March 2013, there were 675,306 nurses and midwives on the register.
    On 31 March 2012, there were 671,668 nurses and midwives on the register.
    On 31 March 2011, there were 665,132 nurses and midwives on the register)


    2017 - 33,810
    2016 - 43,800
    2015 - 44,060
    2014 - 45,530


    UK - October 2015- September 2016 = 26, 653 (20,878 since 2013)
          - October 2016- September 2017 = 29,019

    Europe -October 2015- September 2016 = 2,435
                - October 2016- September 2017 = 4,067

    Rest of the World -October 2015- September 2016 = 2,090
                                 - October 2016- September 2017 = 2,277

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  • DoH confirmed from 1 August 2017, new nursing, midwifery and most allied health students will no longer receive NHS bursaries. Instead, they will have access to the same student loans system as other students. This applies to new students on pre-registration courses (those which lead to registration with one of the health professional regulators).

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  • Nurse training didn’t need to be put into universities! We had plenty of students and few vacancies. It all stared going downhill from P2K. Degrees are good idea but as a post registration decision. As a ward sister I found the lack of skills very obvious, staff nurses needing a further year- 18 months to find their feet. As a patient, I rarely saw an RN and was very grateful to the HCAs who were doing everything apart from a drug round that I did as a Staff Nurse. Rushed off their feet. Nursing could have evolved to degree level training without University help. Supernumerary status gave the lazy students a get out of work free card! Haunting off the ward at every opportunity. No wonder they are having to bring the Green (skills) Book back! I’ll give my own IM injections in future!

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  • I will say this again and again
    Anyone who takes up nursing as a career is a fool
    1. you want to be harassed by malicious managers
    2. lied about by downright nasty patients
    3. be attacked by barristers via the NMC who line their pockets with our hard earned money
    4 be worked into the ground
    5 clatter away on key boards to keep Lawyers for you at bay and keep number crunchers in meaningless jobs
    6 be constantly under threat of losing the qualification they trained for by malicious referrals from disgusting NHS trusts to the equally disgusting NMC
    I have talked a number of youngsters out of nursing(and will continue to do so) and have been thanked for it when they found out what goes on from those who were foolish/naive enough to enter nursing.
    Every nurse should read about Amin Abdullah and realise that management and the NMC are prepared to drive a nurse to an appalling death to cater for their own in built pathological malevolence.

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  • Is anyone surprised? Nurses at the coal face generally treated like muck, up to their eyes in muck, and not even paid enough to be able to afford a barrel of muck---who do those in power think they are kidding! Give it a few more years, and no intelligent young person will train for this denigrated profession unless conditions radically improve.

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  • I also trained the old fashioned way, part of the team,rostered into the off duty, you learnt fast, when the three years where completed and the exam passed, you where fit to work as a staff nurse, complete with all responsabilities. Now the students finish their training, apply to become staff nurses but need preceptors!, It's time we re-think the training and admit the old way was the best lets get these students to work as part of the team and enter the real world of dedication and work ethic.

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