The number of nurses joining the NHS has gone down for the first time in almost a decade after a record proportion quit last year, threatening to plunge the NHS into deeper crisis as Prime Minister Theresa May faces increasing duress to lift the public sector pay cap and give nurses a pay rise.
The figures, which will heighten fears of staffing crisis in years to come, show 20% more people left the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). As of March 2017, 34,941 left the profession, compared to 29,025 joining.
Ministers will be under greater pressure to raise NHS salaries after a week of conflicting signals and reports of division in the cabinet over relaxing a cap on public sector pay, with health secretary Jeremy Hunt backing a pay rise for nurses.
Nurses earn roughly £31,000 on average, but complain of having to treat extra patients without enough staff support and almost half of those leaving cite working conditions as a reason, according to data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).
Jackie Smith, chief executive of the NMC, underlined the pressure on the NHS, saying: “Our figures show for the first time that there are more nurses and midwives leaving the register than joining it.”
The number of nurses and midwives dropped by 1,783 to 690,773 in the financial year 2016-17; 20 per cent more people quit the profession than joined it. An even further fall occurred in just April and May, with 3,264 departing.
Despite the number of new nurses dipping slightly last year, it is still higher than it was in 2012, and the change is driven mainly by an exodus of established staff. Last year 34,941 people left nursing, up 27 per cent in a year and 51 per cent on 2012-13.
Janet Davies, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “These figures are the starkest warning yet that nurses have put up with too much for too long. Our members have had enough, and as a result the profession is shrinking. Patients are paying the price for the government’s failure to plan for the future and it looks set to get worse.”
The union is planning a summer of protests against the government’s decision to cap public sector pay rises at one per cent, saying nurses are £3,000 worse off in real terms than they were in 2010.
Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary, accused ministers of “catastrophic” planning, saying the figures “should be a badge of shame for Theresa May’s unstable government. Their neglect of the NHS workforce, combined with endless pay restraint, is driving people out of health professions.”