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Quarter of nurses cite stress and poor mental health as reasons for leaving – NMC survey

More than 1,600 nurses shared their views on why they left the profession
Image shows senior nurse comforting a stressed and burnt out nurse

More than 1,600 nurses shared their views on why they left the profession

Too much pressure, leading to stress and poor mental health, is one of the top reasons for leaving the nursing profession, according to a new survey .

Data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) show that 21,306 people left the register in 2019-20.

This figure is a five-year low, down from a peak of 29,434 in 2016-17.

High work volumes, lack of management support and increased admin

The nursing regulator asked 6,333 people who left the register in 2019-20 to complete a survey about why they decided to leave.

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More than 1,600 nurses shared their views on why they left the profession


Picture: John Behets

Too much pressure, leading to stress and poor mental health, is one of the top reasons for leaving the nursing profession, according to a new survey.

Data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) show that 21,306 people left the register in 2019-20.

This figure is a five-year low, down from a peak of 29,434 in 2016-17.

High work volumes, lack of management support and increased admin

The nursing regulator asked 6,333 people who left the register in 2019-20 to complete a survey about why they decided to leave.

Of the 1,626 people who responded, 430 (26.4%) cited too much pressure, leading to stress and poor mental health, as a reason for leaving.

This was the second most-cited reason; retirement was the first, cited by 859 (52.7%) respondents. 

Those who cited stress and poor mental health said they left because of:

  • High volumes of work.
  • Feeling under supported by management.
  • Increased administration and regulation.


Andrea Sutcliffe

COVID-19 pandemic will heighten nurse retention issues

While the data were collected before COVID-19 affected the nursing workforce, NMC chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe said the pandemic will exacerbate issues with nurse retention. 

‘We all need to use the insight our registration data reveals to focus on creating the right environment, conditions and incentives to support the sustainable recruitment and retention of nursing and midwifery staff now and for the future,’ she said.

Other data collected by the NMC show that the total number of people on its register rose by 18,370 from 698,237 to 716,607 between March 2019 and March 2020. 

‘Potential stormy waters ahead’ for overseas nurses wishing to join register

One of the areas of growth was in people whose initial registration was outside of the European Economic Area, with 84,316 joining the NMC register in 2019-20.

This compares with 73,308 on the register in 2018-19.

But Ms Sutcliffe said COVID-19 could lead to ‘potential stormy waters ahead’ as travel restrictions may prevent overseas nurses joining the register. 

View our COVID-19 resource centre

‘There is every reason to aim for oversupply’ of nurses

Commenting on the report’s findings, the RCN’s general secretary Donna Kinnair said investment needed to both improve retention and increase nurse numbers.

‘It’s tough going to work every day when there aren’t enough of you and there is seemingly little light at the end of the tunnel,’ she said.

‘There is every reason to aim for oversupply to boost our profession and keep patients safe.’


View the NMC’s data and survey 

The NMC register


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