More than 17,000 younger nurses leave NHS, figures show

RCN says staff shortages, relentless pressure and poor pay forcing nurse leaders to quit.

RCN says staff shortages, relentless pressure and poor pay forcing nurse leaders to quit.

Picture: iStock


More than 17,000 nurses under the age of 40 left the NHS in England in 2016/17, new figures reveal.

The statistics follow concerns raised by the RCN last year about half the nursing workforce being eligible for retirement by 2020.

Workforce figures from NHS Digital and analysed by the BBC show that more than 33,000 left the NHS between September 2016 and September 2017. More than 3,000 people left the profession than joined it.

Over 6,000 leavers were aged between 25 and 29, and over 5,000 30 to 34.

The RCN claimed the NHS is ‘haemorrhaging’ nurses at a time when demand for health and social care services has never been higher.

Safe staffing

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘Despite the demographic time bomb in our profession, the people with the best years of their career ahead are taking the difficult decision to leave.

‘They have 10 or 15 years’ solid experience and, when they leave nursing or the NHS, they take years of knowledge with them.

‘Patients get the best care when the most experienced nurses work alongside the newly trained – this practice is now at risk.'

Age of nurses leaving 30 September 2016-30 September 2017

  • Under 25    2,117
  • 25-29         6,074
  • 30-34         5,142
  • 35-39         3,874

Source: NHS Digital

Ms Davies said tomorrow's nursing leaders should not be forced to leave because of staff shortages, relentless pressure and poor pay.

‘This perfect storm is engulfing nursing and the stakes could scarcely be higher,' she said.

‘The NHS must retain the years of collective experience to stem these losses. The government must commit to safe staffing levels in legislation, invest in health services and value nurses with a meaningful above inflation pay rise.’

Nurse ambassadors

Figures given to the independent government advisory body the Migration Advisory Committee by the RCN show the number of EU nurses coming to work in the UK dropped by 95% from 1,300 in July 2016 to just 71 nurses in July 2017.

England’s chief nursing officer Jane Cummings admitted to the BBC that the NHS is losing nurses who need to be encouraged and that ‘nurse ambassadors’ will be brought in to promote the profession.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: ‘The pressure on the NHS is at an all time high. It is highly damaging that so many nurses are leaving the NHS so soon after qualifying.

‘New recruits are quickly realising that the demands placed on them are unrealistic and overwhelming.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Nurses are at the heart of our NHS and that's why there are 11,700 more on our wards since May 2010.

‘We want to keep these hardworking staff in our NHS and build a workforce fit for the future. This is why we announced the biggest ever expansion of nurse training places, with 5,000 more becoming available from 2018.

‘We have opened up extra routes into the profession and continue to support nurses to improve work-life balance and work more flexibly.’

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