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Mass exodus of young nurses is ‘deeply worrying’ says RCN report

13 Feb 2023

We’re demanding the UK governments take immediate action to improve nursing pay and workforce planning to help the current NHS staff retention crisis.

Nursing students

A new RCN report published today (13 February) reveals that tens of thousands of skilled and experienced nursing staff are leaving the profession, with many of those aged 21 to 50.

The Valuing Nursing in the UK – Staffing for Safe and Effective Care report sets out the issues contributing to the poor retention of nursing staff, the reasons why they’re leaving, and calls for immediate action from the UK governments.

The report shows that between 2018 and 2022, nearly 43,000 people aged 21 to 50 left the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register. It also finds the number of nurses leaving the NMC register increased by 9% from 2020-21 on the previous year and increased by a further 3% in 2022.

RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: “It’s deeply worrying that nurses aren’t just choosing to retire early but are quitting the NHS and the profession entirely, when they’re only a few years into their career.”

In the report, the RCN blames years of underfunding – including a decade of real-terms pay cuts – for the exodus and is calling for an immediate, substantial pay rise for nursing staff.

Pat continued: “These findings speak volumes about the dire state that ministers have allowed nursing to fall into through years of underfunding and neglect.

“At the same time, recent UCAS figures highlight that we aren’t only losing a record number of experienced nurses from the NHS, we’re also going to have less joining the profession. This can only mean even more vacancies in the future.

“Negligence towards addressing vacancies is having a devastating impact on patient care and is why our members took to picket lines in England again last week.”

In addition to improving pay for nursing staff, the report makes further demands of the UK governments, which include: 

  • delivering fully funded health and care workforce plans 
  • publishing independently verifiable assessments of health and care nursing workforce requirements to meet the needs of the population and address health inequalities
  • ensuring there is accountability for nursing workforce planning and supply in law. 

The report also urges employers to make career progression available to all, improve working conditions and health and safety, and design and implement retention strategies.

Some of the complex reasons nursing staff leave the profession are explored too, with case studies to demonstrate the realities facing many workers every day. Reasons for leaving include inadequate pay, insufficient staffing to ensure patient safety, harassment and discrimination in the workplace, a lack of career progression, and unsafe working conditions.

Pat said: "Ministers cannot blame the pandemic and other winter pressures for the crisis unfolding before our eyes – this has been a long time in the making yet the government has consistently ignored clear signs.

“They must offer fair pay rises to help stop the exodus."

Page last updated - 21/07/2023