EXCLUSIVE: Thousands of nurses considered leaving UK to work overseas in last five years

Thousands of nurses have considered leaving UK to work overseas over the past five years, Nursing Standard can reveal.
Working abroad seems more popular than ever

Thousands of nurses have considered leaving the UK to work overseas over the past five years, Nursing Standard can reveal.

Since 2011, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has issued 26,028 verification certificates – documents that prove a nurse’s registration, training and qualifications required by overseas employers.

Working abroad seems more popular than ever
Working abroad is appealing more to nurses than in previous years. Picture: iStock

A total of 4,663 certificates were issued in 2015-16, according to NMC figures obtained by Nursing Standard.

Australia was by far the most popular destination for emigrating nurses in search of a new life – accounting for 2,138 of certificates.

This was followed by the US with 952, Ireland with 493, and New Zealand ranked third with 265.

While the numbers have declined since 2011-12, when 6,915 certificates were issued, the NHS is still losing nurses amid a workforce shortage.

A report from the Institute for Employment Studies on the nursing workforce published in July said that 1 in 10 nurse posts in England are unfilled and 29% of nurses are over 50 years old and rapidly approaching retirement. 

Improvements needed

RCN deputy director of nursing Stephanie Aiken said the NHS needed to improve its pay and working conditions to ensure nurses stay. 

‘As pay restraint for nurses continues, we need to acknowledge that there is a serious risk that more nurses will be attracted to higher paying jobs in countries like Australia and the US,’ she said.

‘Having the ability to retain nurses, through measures such as increasing pay, offering flexible working, investment in professional development aligned with an cohesive framework, and improving working conditions, is key to mitigating these risks to the supply of nurses in the UK.’

The number of verification certificates issued by the NMC
  • 4,663 in 2015-16.
  • 4,935 in 2014-15.
  • 4,399 in 2013-14.
  • 5,116 in 2012-13.
  • 6,915 in 2011-12.

Nurses who are considering a number of countries can apply for up to five verifications at any one time. They can also apply without actually leaving the UK.

Source: the NMC


James Buchan, professor at the school of health sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, pointed out that not all nurses who apply for verification certificates go through with their plans, and that a proportion of the nurses will be those came to work in the NHS from overseas and were returning home. 

Challenging futures

‘We cannot be certain that all these nurses were working in the NHS, but even the possible loss of nurses at a time when there are growing indications of a nursing shortage in the UK presents a challenge’ he said.

Australian migration consultant, Anna Gorna, said the antipodean country is a consistently popular choice for nurses planning to leave the UK.

Ms Gorna, who works for Emigrate to Australia at Taylor Hampton Solicitors, said there was a post Brexit increase in enquiries from nurses planning to leave for Australia of about 30%, mainly from European nurses working for the NHS. 

Recent changes barring nurses without a degree from registering in Australia means that demand for UK staff remains high, as many countries do not educate their nurses to a sufficiently high level.

‘People want to leave for a combination of reasons, such as the lifestyle, weather, more flexible shifts for their worklife balance and pay is a bit better,’ she said.

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