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Nurse exodus: NMC register sees number of leavers shoot up

Calls for better nurse retention as regulator reveals why exhausted and disenchanted registrants are opting to quit the profession in increasing numbers
Nurse looks back and waves as she stands beside exit

Calls for better nurse retention as regulator reveals why exhausted and disenchanted registrants are opting to quit the profession in increasing numbers

The number of nurses leaving the profession rose by 13% in the past year, with more than a third saying the COVID-19 pandemic influenced their decision to go.

The latest Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) annual register data report published today shows a record 758,303 people on the register on 31 March. But it also revealed an increase, for the first time since 2019, in the number of people leaving, with more than 27,000 coming off the register in the year to March 2022. Some 25,219 of these were nurses.

Calls for better nurse retention as regulator reveals why exhausted and disenchanted registrants are opting to quit the profession in increasing numbers

Picture: iStock

The number of nurses leaving the profession rose by 13% in the past year, with more than a third saying the COVID-19 pandemic influenced their decision to go.

The latest Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) annual register data report published today shows a record 758,303 people on the register on 31 March. But it also revealed an increase, for the first time since 2019, in the number of people leaving, with more than 27,000 coming off the register in the year to March 2022. Some 25,219 of these were nurses.

Reasons why nurses are leaving, and the importance of a focus on retention

An NMC survey of leavers found the most common reasons for the departures, apart from retirement, were:

  • A change in circumstances
  • Pressure getting too much
  • Negative work culture
  • Leaving the UK

NMC chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe said the report revealed warning signs about nurse retention.

‘Those who left shared troubling stories about the pressure they’ve had to bear during the pandemic,’ she said.

‘A focus on retention as well as attracting recruits needs to be part of a sustainable workforce plan to meet rising demands for health and care services.’

‘I can’t explain the adjustment required to join a “front line” in response to an unknown enemy when my entire family were sent home to isolate. Then my utter disbelief at the lack of adequate PPE’

Nurse who left the NMC register

The NMC Leavers’ survey, which included responses from 6,500 people who left between January and December 2021, found that 36.5% felt their experience of the pandemic had at least some if not a strong influence on them leaving the profession.

The most common themes that emerged from their comments included:

  • Health and safety concerns
  • Increased workload
  • Short-staffing and feeling under pressure
  • Changes to work environment and duties
  • Not feeling supported and appreciated

Our health and safety fears: what departing nurses told the NMC

Almost one in three respondents said health and safety concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) had particularly influenced their decision to leave the register.

  • One nurse from England said: ‘I can’t eloquently explain the adjustment required to the realisation that I was expected to join a “front line” in response to an unknown medical enemy when my entire family were sent home to isolate. Then my utter disbelief at the lack of adequate PPE and the unrealistic expectations of staff’
  • A general practice nurse said: ‘Pressure at work and the change of working practice did not allow me to provide the care I wanted to give. COVID restrictions compounded this. I was becoming stressed, tired and not sleeping well’

Source: NMC Leavers’ survey 2022

The high levels of nurse attrition are being felt by patients and colleagues

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said the loss of nurses is being felt profoundly by patients and staff. She called for ministers to act decisively to retain experienced professionals.

‘When we have tens of thousands of vacant nurse jobs, a sharp rise in leavers should not be overlooked while we welcome new recruits,’ she said.


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