Over 33,000 nurses (half under the age of 40) left the NHS last year, creating further pressures on the already understaffed wards and community nursing services.
This figure is 3,000 over the number entering the profession according to the BBC. Reasons cited are working conditions, understaffing and being too busy with too many jobs to do. Many go to the private sector including agencies, drug companies and hospitals. Many go abroad.
Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, has said: “The government must lift the NHS out of this dangerous and downward spiral. We are haemorrhaging nurses at precisely the time when demand has never been higher. The next generation of British nurses aren’t coming through just as the most experienced nurses are becoming demoralised and leaving.”
The Regulator, NHS Improvement, is rolling out a retention programme to try to reduce this worrying situation, to include motivational masterclasses to help. It would also help if pay was to be increased.
The figures matter because the population is increasing, thus having a direct effect on demand. Although overall the 2017 workforce was 0.7% higher than in 2010, when you bring in the 14% increase in emergency admissions to hospital, it’s no wonder there is pressure.
The government has not helped the recruitment situation either as the bursary for nursing students is no longer available. This will put off students from lower income families and mature students who would need that income to replace their existing income in order to train. Unsurprisingly, in 2017, the number of applications for undergraduate nursing places dropped 19% from 2016.
Brexit has undoubtedly also played a part. EU nationals that might have previously considered coming to work in the UK an attractive option, no longer can see the appeal.
There has been much overseas recruitment in recent years to try to fill some of the gaps. Soon many of these nurses will have to leave too as the Home Office raised the income threshold for migrant workers. This means any migrant worker not earning a salary of £35,000 will have to leave after 6 years. The first wave of these departures from the profession will be felt early this year.
The Royal College of Nursing are campaigning to have the profession placed on a list of recognised professions with a skills shortage which would exempt the profession from the income threshold restrictions.
In the meantime the care and safety of patients in hospital and those requiring community assistance is likely to be compromised unless an urgent action plan is put into place.
Author: Julie Tansey