Royal College of Nursing warns of problems ahead due to ageing workforce, despite recent rise in nursing numbers

Royal College of Nursing warns of problems ahead due to ageing workforce, despite recent rise in nursing numbers

- in Royal College of Nursing
Nurse wearing face mask

The total number of nurses, midwives and nursing associates on the permanent register of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has risen in the past year, but the regulator has warned of “stormy waters ahead”.

Annual registration data from the regulator shows that the number of nurses, midwives and nursing associates on its permanent register has increased by 18,000 in the last year – but has also warned that not all of them will be working in the field.

The growth in registrations is thought to be driven by nurses and midwives that joined the temporary Covid-19 register deciding to work in the UK on a permanent basis, as well as a 300% increase in the number of registered nursing associates.

Nearly half of the total growth on the permanent register comes from people who originally trained in the Philippines and India.

Announcing the data, the NMC’s Chief Executive and Registrar Andrea Sutcliffe warned that the COVID-19 pandemic may reduce the number of new registrants coming from overseas and that the significant growth of the past year may not be sustainable.

She said: “Covid-19 has meant the vital skills, specialism and resilience of our nursing and midwifery professionals have never been more publicly recognised and valued. It’s therefore great to celebrate record numbers of people on the NMC register.

“However, while the increased figures from within the UK and overseas are very welcome for everyone working in and using health and care services, there are potential stormy waters ahead.

“As a result of the pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions, we may no longer be able to rely on the flow of professionals joining our register from overseas in the same way. Going forwards, the significant growth we’ve seen recently may not be sustained”.

Nursing union the Royal College of Nursing also warned that, despite the yearly rise in nursing numbers, there may be trouble ahead due to the ageing workforce of the profession as a whole.

Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary, said: “The NMC’s data shows that too often people quit nursing because of the level of pressure, making shortages even more acute. 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.

“Many of our professionals are in the later stages of their career – a third on the register are over 50. These are extremely experienced nurses, who also support new nurses as they choose to join us. There is every reason to aim for oversupply to boost our profession and keep patients safe.”

Nurses group Nurses United UK echoed the warnings from the union, with a spokesperson saying: “We all know that half of the NMC register are set to retire in the next 10 years. So it’s strange to be celebrating that it took a global pandemic for fewer people to decide to quit the profession?

“Nurses still cite stress and burnout as a major reason to leave. Pay them more, give them safe staffing ratios and find a living bursary and then we should celebrate.”



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