Stop stripping poorer nations of nurses, urges new report

International Council of Nurses highlights fragile state of global nursing workforce shortage 

International Council of Nurses highlights fragile state of global shortage as hundreds of overseas nurses added to NMC register in the past week alone

Picture: Neil O'Connor

Wealthy countries like the UK must avoid stripping poorer nations of nurses in the scramble to address staffing shortages made worse by the pandemic, a new report says.

The warning came as it emerged hundreds of overseas nurses were added to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register in the past week alone amid efforts to accelerate international recruitment.

Nurse shortage must be seen as a global crisis, warns international nursing body

A new report by the International Council of Nurses (ICN), commissioned by the International Centre on Nurse Migration, highlights the fragile state of the global nursing workforce in the wake of COVID-19, with many burnt out nurses off sick or deciding to leave the profession entirely. Estimates suggest as many as 13 million more nurses will be needed globally in the next decade.

ICN chief executive Howard Catton, who co-authored the report, said: ‘With the latest information about nurse vacancies, their rates of intention to leave and staff sickness rates, it must now be recognised as a global crisis.’

Before COVID-19, the global shortage of nurses was estimated to be 5.9 million – with the worst shortages in lower-income countries.

If just 4% of the global nursing workforce quits because of the pandemic, that would push the worldwide shortage up to an estimated seven million, the report warns.

However, Mr Catton believes as many as 10% could leave due to the pandemic. Adding this to existing shortages and numbers set to retire, he estimates the world will need to recruit and retain up to 13 million more nurses in the next ten years.

UK urged to review expanding domestic nurse training based on real need

Poorer nations will suffer most with many high-income countries, including the UK, already ramping up international recruitment of nurses.

The report flags a ‘marked increase’ in the number of overseas nurses being registered in the UK, with NHS employers encouraged to recruit internationally to fill staffing gaps.

The most recent data from the NMC shows that in the six months up to September 2021, nearly 11,000 international nurses were registered – more than for the entire 12 months before that.

With more than 100,000 international nurses, the UK ranks second after the US for the highest number of nurses from overseas. It is among countries with a ‘relatively low’ proportion of homegrown nurses, says the report.

The report urges countries to review and consider expanding domestic nurse training and education based on a realistic assessment of need.

It also calls for international efforts to invest in, and support, small and low-income countries most at risk of a mass exodus of nursing staff.

Find out more

International Council of Nurses Report (2022) Sustain and Retain in 2022 and Beyond

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