An increasing number of nurses are allowing their registrations to lapse each year, at a time when the NHS is struggling with a shortage of qualified staff, an investigation by Nursing Times has found.
More must be done to support the current nursing workforce and also those that want to return to the profession, nursing leaders have said in response to the findings.
Latest figures supplied to Nursing Times reveal the number of people choosing to stop working as nurses. The number joining the register has increased by almost 10,000 since 2010. However, the number leaving it has reached a four-year high.
According to Nursing and Midwifery Council, more than 23,000 nurses allowed their registration to lapse during the 12 months prior to March – the highest number since 2010. This is equivalent to 3.4% of the total number of nurses on the register, which stood at 675,255 on 31 March.
In comparison, data for March 2010 shows 21,949 nurses allowed their registration to lapse. The number of lapses fell slightly in 2011 to 20,876, but increased again in 2012 to 21,851 before climbing to 23,088 this year.
Registration is recorded as lapsed when someone fails to pay their annual fee to the NMC, making it illegal for them to work as a qualified nurse.
Reasons for lapses include injury, career change, moving overseas or retirement – though some nurses remain on the register after 55 in order to do agency work.
The trend comes as evidence of a fresh crisis in nurse recruitment has emerged in recent weeks.
Nursing Times revealed last month that most acute trusts were increasing the number of nursing posts in their organisations, in order to maintain patient safety in the wake of the public inquiry on care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.
However, thousands of these posts remain vacant and at least a third of hospital trusts have actively recruit nurses from overseas to try and fill gaps in rotas.
Data from the NHS Information Centre reveals there were 347,444 qualified nurses working in the NHS in July 2013, a drop of 6,468 nurses since the coalition government was elected.
Howard Catton, policy director for the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Nurses do not take snap decisions to leave the profession.
“There is usually a lot of soul searching before quitting, which means that it’s likely to be a permanent decision and not one that’s readily reversed,” he said.
He called for the government and NHS to focus on encouraging current staff to remain in the profession.
“Given both the current shortage and the ageing of the profession, it is more important than it ever has been to retain the staff we have,” he said. “This means valuing and supporting nurses both as individuals and as a profession to do the job they aspired to on their first day of training.”
Return-to-practice courses have traditionally provided the most obvious route back into the nursing profession. A total of 35 universities are listed by the NMC as offering them.
However, courses can cost returners in the region of £1,500 each and individuals are required to find their own clinical placements.
Are you able to Speak Out Safely? Sign our petition to put pressure on your trust to support an open and transparent NHS.