The latest figures on the size of the register released by the Nursing and Midwifery Council can hardly be a surprise to anyone.
They echo much of what the regulator said in the summer – the profession is shrinking in the UK.
While there are manifold reasons – and many more speculations – about the cause, we now need to focus on the solution (see page 6).
There are fewer nurses on the register than we need – 40,000 nurses short, according to the Royal College of Nursing. Virtually every care provider is scrambling for nurses and our register is haemorrhaging nurses.
Being unable to recruit from a UK supply line, because we’ve seriously missed the target on the number of nurses that we needed to train, has recently forced employers overseas. According to the NMC figures, while registrants from the rest of the world remain static, nurses in the EU are now no longer coming, and those that have come are not staying.
Jackie Smith, chief executive of the NMC, told me she was not worried yet about this translating into a serious patient safety concern. I believe even if that’s true, we can’t be far off it becoming an issue. You cannot have this high a vacancy rate in this many organisations without putting patients at some level of risk.
Ethically, recruiting from overseas seems wrong because there is a worldwide shortage of staff, but without a plan B for the right here and now, it’s probably all chief nurses in the UK can do. Here, the NMC data is helpful because it tells us exactly where nurses are coming from, and where they are not.
”We need to find a way to create more registered nurses”
If Spain was your previous route to finding nurses, then it’s probably time to look elsewhere – at least, that’s what the figures tell us.
More importantly, we need to find a way to create more registered nurses. We need to make the profession attractive – and that means fairly paid, supported by educational opportunities and given flexible working. The survey conducted by the NMC in the summer told us this – but I’m not sure anyone listened.
It’s time to attract the next generation of nurses. It’s time to make nursing a proud profession. We must be realistic, and survive in whichever way we can now, but also make plans for the future so that we never end up in this position again.