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Latest NMC data exposes nursing retention crisis, says RCN

24 May 2023

Almost 27,000 people left the register in the past year, with more than half of those leaving earlier than planned, citing burnout, workload and concerns over care quality.

Nurses in clinical setting

The latest figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) are indicative of governments’ failure to retain experienced nurses and recruit homegrown staff, says the RCN.

Of the 26,755 professionals who left the register in the 12 months to March 2023, more than half (52%) did so earlier than planned, with almost a quarter leaving "much earlier" than they’d expected to. Most said they were unlikely to return to nursing or midwifery, including younger leavers.

Results from an NMC leavers survey found that workplace factors, including burnout, lack of colleague support, concern about the quality of care for the public, workload and staffing, were frequently cited as reasons for leaving.

The data also shows a rise in internationally educated nurses joining the workforce. Of those new to the register, almost half (25,006) were internationally educated. In the context of a global nursing shortage, this is unsustainable and potentially unethical.

In total, the number of professionals on the register whose initial registration was outside the UK increased by 21,766 (15%) in the past year, with professionals educated around the world now accounting for one in five nurses, midwives and nursing associates who can practise in the UK.

RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: “These figures bear out our concerns over the failure to retain experienced staff. Thousands of nurses are leaving the profession early citing burnout, physical or mental health, and concerns about the quality of people’s care.

“With half of all new starters coming from overseas, it is clear the UK government's failure to deliver a domestic workforce plan is hitting home. While internationally educated nursing staff are a vital and valued part of the NHS, the overreliance on staff from overseas, including those countries with shortages of their own, is not sustainable.”

Referring to the imminent announcement in England in particular, Pat added: “When the workforce plan for England finally comes, it must tackle these issues head on.”

Pay and benefits were cited as reasons for leaving by those educated outside the UK as well as younger professionals, which is partially linked to the cost-of-living crisis.

Our Fair Pay For Nursing campaign seeks to secure a salary for nursing staff that values their training, qualifications, skills, responsibilities and experience to ensure nursing is seen as an attractive and rewarding profession. As part of this, we’re balloting members working for the NHS in England on further industrial action and taking strike action in Wales on 6 and 7 June and 12 and 13 July. Our campaigning in Northern Ireland continues, while our dispute in Scotland has been resolved following an NHS pay offer our members accepted

Page last updated - 22/10/2023