New data shows that over 33,000 nurses left the profession last year, triggering warnings of a “dangerous and downward spiral”.
Official figures released today reveal one in ten nurses are leaving the NHS in England each year, sparking fresh worries about the shortage of staff in hospitals.
The data published by NHS Digital reveals that just under 33,500 nurses left in 2016-17, which is 3,000 more than the number of new nurses that joined last year. It is also 20% higher than the number that quit in 2012-13.
The worrying figures come at a testing time for the NHS as the ongoing winter crisis continues to put strain on the service with rising demand and a shortage of staff and beds.
The Royal College of Nursing, the UK’s largest nursing union, described the figures as “disappointing, but not surprising” and said the next generation of nurses isn’t coming through due to “short-sighted” cuts to training place – all while the most experienced nurses are quickly becoming “demoralised” and choosing to leave.
Janet Davies, RCN Chief Executive, said:
Most patient care is given by NHS nurses and, each time the strain ratchets up again, they are the ones who bear the brunt of it.
We already know there are 40,000 unfilled nurse jobs in England and things continue to head in the wrong direction. There cannot be safe care for patients while the Government continues to allow nursing on the cheap.
The RCN is leading calls for ministers to make an urgent intervention and invest in services and the workers who provide them, including giving nurses a “meaningful” pay rise above inflation, increasing the number of training places and providing support for career development.
The Brexit effect
The new NHS figures suggest that Brexit may be partly to blame for the nurse shortage, with more nurses from the EU leaving than joining. Last year a total of 3,985 EU nurses (not including those from the UK) left, and only 2,791 joined. In contrast, during 2014-15 (the last full year before the EU referendum in 2016) 2,416 nurses left while 5,977 joined the NHS.
Hospital bosses have now called for the 62,000 EU workers in the NHS – which amounts to 5.6% of the total NHS workforce, to be given reassurance about their status after Brexit.
It’s not just EU nurses who are leaving the NHS though, with low pay and rising work pressures taking its toll on NHS nurses. Just last week, senior doctors wrote to the prime minister to warn that the winter crisis was resulting in patients dying in hospital corridors due to the underfunded and short-staffed NHS simply could not cope.