The overall number of nurses leaving the British health service has increased from 23,087 in 2012/13 to 34,941 in 2016/17. This means a fifth more people are leaving the organisation than joining it. This has been further intensified with 3,264 leaving in just April and May of this year.

Although the number of nurses registered on the UK’s health service has risen each year since 2013, 2016/17 was the first time there was a drop of 1,783 to only 690,773. Additionally, the number of those quitting before retirement age has more than doubled. In the 21 – 30 age bracket, the number of leavers has doubled from 1,510 to 2,901.

Of those leaving, the largest group was nurses born in the UK, at 45%. In 2012/13 it was just 19,819. Today it is 29,434. The figures released also show that the number of EU workers, who make up 5%, leaving has increased from 1,173 in 2012/13 to 3,081 in 2016/17. Numbers of other overseas nurses leaving have gone up from 2,095 in 2012/13 to 2,426 in 2016/17.

The director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said, “These figures provide further evidence of the severe workforce problems NHS trusts face. This goes beyond the concerns over Brexit - worrying though they are. It is particularly disappointing to see so many of our younger nurses and midwives choosing to leave.”

Why are they leaving in such hoards?

A survey of 4,544 nurses and midwives conducted last year by The Nursing and Midwifery Council, found that the top reason for leaving was poor working conditions because of an excessive workload due to severe staff shortages. Many also felt that benefits were poor and that they were disillusioned with the low level of patient care. For EU nurses, 32% said Brexit had encouraged them to seek work outside the UK.

Both The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have since called on the government to do away with its pay cap on nurses wages and bring back bursaries for nursing students so they are not put off pursuing the career by a big loan.

Janet Davies, the chief executive of the RCN, has said, that, “the NHS will be further than ever from filling the 40,000 vacant nurse jobs in England alone. The 1 per cent cap means nursing staff can no longer afford to stay in the profession and scrapping student funding means people can no longer afford to join it.”

Many staffs are looking for the same job in other countries. A total of 4,153 ‘verification requests’ have been made for overseas licensing authorities in Australia, America and Ireland. Director for policy at the RCM, Jon Skewes remarked, “these are worrying figures for maternity services and for a profession that is already 3,500 midwives short of the numbers needed in England.”

How is the government tackling the matter?

A Department of Health spokeswoman has said that they “are making sure we have the nurses we need to continue delivering world-class patient care – that’s why there are almost 13,100 more on our wards since May 2010 and 52,000 in training.”

Additionally, in order to retain current staff numbers, a new staff retention programme will be rolled out to those NHS trusts with the highest rates of nurses leaving. However Cordery believes that this will have little effect unless the core issues of the pay gap and “unsustainable workplace pressures” are addressed.

“We need to keep and value our staff. This is important for the quality and particularly the continuity of care. We need to follow through on the investment in training staff by consolidating and building on their skills, motivating them and giving them reasons to stay in the NHS,” she said.

“Patients are paying the price for the government’s failure to plan for the future and it looks set to get worse,” Davis added. MIMS

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