The Nurses and Midwifery Council (NMC) have released their annual registration report and found 15,000 more nurses joined the organisation in the past year.
The 34 page report goes in depth into the field of practice, gender balance and the reasons nurses have left the register.
The data report is published every six months, and this annual report covers the time period between April to March every year. The NMC also publishes a mid-year report, covering the six month period between April and September.
In total, the number of the nurses and midwives grew from 716,607 to 731,918, an increase of 2.1 percent over the past year, 9 out of 10 are nurses.
The number of nurses and midwives leaving the NMC is at its lowest, with fewer than 24,000 (23,936) people leaving in 2020-21 compared to a peak of almost 35,000 (34,941) in 2016-17.
Nurses, midwives and nursing associates from the European Economic Area (EEA) decreased again, at a rate of 24 percent, the data showed a three-month period at the start of pandemic, last year where the rate of international recruitment fell to almost zero.
However, international recruitment beyond the EEA grew to more than 92,000, including professionals trained in the Philippines (2,673) and India (4,360) continuing to make up the largest proportion of new international joiners to the UK register.
The most common reason for leaving was given as “retirement” and during the period between July 2019 to June 2020 over 21,000 left the register.
Mental health was also studied, and just under 1 in 4 members of the NMC cited “too much pressure” as their primary role for leaving their job, this reason was most answered by nurses who work in mental health services as well as midwives.
The Royal College of Nursing responded to the study calling for support for nurses and advocated for a fully funded 12.5% pay increase.
RCN Acting General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: “Fewer nurses registered with the NMC this year than last. The register is growing nowhere near enough to meet patient demand. The situation will get worse when one fifth of the register retires in the next few years. This doesn’t include those nursing staff planning to leave due to high stress, poor pay and benefits and a negative workplace culture. This is clearly a major risk for the quality and safety of patient care, which is only set to increase in demand.
“Early in their chosen career, nursing staff are feeling forced out by the poor pay levels. Every one of these people should have many years and thousands of patients ahead of them – they’re not just a loss now but for 20 years to come.
“The reasons why nursing staff are leaving the profession they love have yet to be addressed. Until they are, our profession, and the patients they care for, stand on the precipice of a crisis.
“Time’s running out to address these issues. We have set out standards that must underpin workforce planning across the UK to keep patients safe. We are also calling for clear accountability for delivering the workforce needed for safe and effective care in the upcoming Health and Social Care Bill.”
The Chief Nursing Officer for England, Ruth May responded to report on twitter, stating: “I am delighted to see today’s NMC registration data report showing the highest ever number of registered nurses, midwives and nursing associates and the number leaving the register is at its lowest in five years. In England the number has increased by over 12,000.
“Now we must work together to support the wellbeing of our nursing and midwifery colleagues and in turn strengthen the workforce to be able to meet the challenges ahead, and also to continue to inspire the next generation to join our professions.”
The Kings Fund, the independent think tank that covers UK healthcare also published a written response to the report, Suzie Bailey, Director of Leadership and Organisational Development at The King’s Fund said:
“The increase in the number of nurses and midwives is obviously welcome, but the headline figure masks some worrying trends. The rate of growth has slowed and much-needed international recruitment has been brought to a near standstill by the pandemic.
“Stress, absenteeism and turnover remain alarmingly high among nurses and midwives. The pressure on health and care staff has been compounded by Covid-19, which has underlined longer-term issues including chronic excessive workload, inadequate working conditions, bullying, staff burnout and inequalities, particularly among minority ethnic groups.
“As well as efforts to recruit more staff, the government, NHS and other care providers need to renew their focus on retention and creating environments where nurses and midwives can flourish. Specific measures should include new minimum standards to improve working conditions and an urgent review into the practice of 12-hour shifts and their impact on staff wellbeing and quality of care.
“Severe staff shortages have dogged the NHS and social care for many years and have been exacerbated by poor national workforce planning. As we emerge from the pandemic, there is an urgent need for a fully funded workforce plan that addresses staff shortages, tackles staff stress and burnout and recognises the impact of the past year on staff wellbeing.”