Since last year’s EU referendum result there has been an intense focus both in the media and in government on the fate of EU nationals currently living and working in the UK.
It’s understandable then that EU nurses and midwives working in the UK, who make an invaluable contribution our health care system, have been in the spotlight. Our own figures published just a couple of months ago showed a significant drop in the number of EU nurses and midwives joining our register compared with the previous year.
However, EU nurses and midwives make up just five per cent of the overall register and this focus on what is a small proportion of the nursing and midwifery workforce has masked some more concerning domestic trends.
Earlier this month, we published figures that revealed for the first time in recent history more nurses and midwives are leaving our register than joining it. Between 2016 and 2017, 20 per cent more people left the register than joined it. But these figures are largely being fuelled not by those from the EU or overseas but by UK nurses and midwives. In the past year, 45 per cent more UK registrants left the register than joined it.
“Between 2016 and 2017, 20 per cent more people left the register than joined it.”
We know that nursing and midwifery is an aging workforce, so we would expect to see those of retirement age leaving the register in higher numbers.
What is more surprising however, is the increase in nurses and midwives across all age groups leaving the register, particularly those under the age of 40. When we exclude people who have retired, the average age of those leaving the register has steadily decreased over the last four years from 55 years of age to 51.
So we know that more UK nurses and midwives are leaving the register, but where are they going? We know that many have made the often difficult decision to leave the professions entirely, but we’ve also seen indications of an increase in people leaving the UK to nurse in other parts of the world.
“Early insight suggests that the pressures facing healthcare professionals across the UK are contributing to these departures.”
In the past year there’s been a noticeable increase in the number of verification requests to the NMC made by licencing authorities in different countries indicating that more UK nurses and midwives are moving to work overseas.
The US, Australia and the Republic of Ireland are appearing to be the most popular destinations. Dallas, Darwin and Dublin no doubt have their draws, but health leaders must try to find a long term solution to keep our nurses and midwives practising in Derby and Dudley rather than heading abroad.
Early insight from those who have left the register suggests that the pressures facing healthcare professionals across the UK are contributing to these departures. Working conditions -such as staffing levels - changes in personal circumstances and disillusionment with the quality of care were given as the primary reasons for nurses and midwives leaving the register. Poor pay and benefits were also cited in the top ten reasons.
Increasing numbers of UK nurses and midwives leaving the register and the uncertainty surrounding the potential impact of Brexit negotiations mean that the UK’s healthcare workforce will undoubtedly remain in the spotlight for some time to come.
As the regulator, it is not our remit to set standards around staffing levels. However, it is our duty to support government and employers by providing important insight into the numbers of nurses and midwives registered to practise so they can identify solutions to halt these emerging trends.
“As the regulator, it is not our remit to set standards around staffing levels.”
We’ve highlighted the potentially concerning trends about our register not to apportion blame but to inform. We know the pressures that exist in our health care system; particularly the pressures that face the nursing and midwifery professions on a daily basis. It is our responsibility as healthcare leaders to use our expertise to help find lasting solutions for both staff and patients.
Jackie Smith is the Chief Executive and Registrar for the Nursing and Midwifery Council