NMC register report 'shows trouble on the horizon', says RCN
Over 15,000 more nurses, midwives and nursing associates are now registered with the NMC compared to March 2020. However, the rate of growth has slowed and the longer term impact of COVID-19 on a workforce under increasing pressure is a concern.
‘The NMC Register’ shows the number of people on the permanent register has grown by 15,311 (2.1 percent) to an overall total of 731,918. This includes 11,673 more nurses, 1,152 more midwives and 2,660 more nursing associates. The number of people leaving the register is at its lowest in five years, with fewer than 24,000 (23,936) people leaving in 2020-21 compared to a peak of almost 35,000 (34,941) in 2016-17. Additionally, the number of people whose initial registration was in the UK has increased by 8,421 (1.4 percent) over the past twelve months, although the rate of growth has slowed compared with previous years.
The report also shows the impact the initial COVID-19 lockdown had on international recruitment into the UK. Over the last year the number of people joining the register from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) fell by 24 percent, including a three month period at the start of the pandemic where numbers collapsed to almost zero.
Despite this, people from outside the EEA account for more than half (9,156) of the total growth of the register, with professionals trained in the Philippines (2,673) and India (4,360) continuing to make up the largest proportion of new international joiners to the UK register. The data also shows the number of professionals on the NMC register from within the EEA continues to fall, down to 30,331, a 3 percent reduction since last year.
The NMC has also seen a rise in the number of professionals in the retirement age ranges on its register (6.2 percent), suggesting that people may have stayed on to help tackle the pandemic. While this is testament to their commitment to their profession and public health, it may lead to increasing numbers leaving the professions in the months and years to come.
The NMC invited a sample of more than 6,000 people to take part in a small survey to find out reasons why they had left the permanent register. Other than retirement (51.6 percent), the key reasons for leaving included too much pressure (22.7 percent) and the impact of a negative workplace culture (18.1 percent).
Finally, the report also highlights there are now more than 15,000 (15,457) people on the NMC’s COVID-19 temporary register established in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Commenting on the report, Andrea Sutcliffe CBE, Chief Executive and Registrar, said: “There’s no doubt this has been a year unlike any other. It’s been difficult and, at times, traumatic for our incredible nursing and midwifery professionals, who’ve worked tirelessly to continue to care for people in the most challenging of circumstances. Given the impact of the pandemic, it’s great our register has continued to grow and overall, the report paints a picture of cautious optimism.
“However, while our register shows welcome and much needed positive UK growth overall, the pace of that growth has slowed. We’ve also seen the continued reliance on international recruitment, which makes us vulnerable to the impact of world events, as the early months of the pandemic showed.
“It’s also great to see fewer people have left our register, but we know from our leavers’ survey that workplace pressures and stress are among the key reasons for leaving. As we begin to address the longer term effects of COVID-19 on our health and care services, it’s clear we must do all we can to support the physical and mental wellbeing of our professionals so they feel able to stay."
RCN Acting General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen, added: “This report confirms there is trouble on the horizon for people needing health and care services. Fewer nurses registered with the NMC this year than last. The register is growing nowhere near enough to meet patient demand. The situation will get worse when one fifth of the register retires in the next few years. This doesn’t include those nursing staff planning to leave due to high stress, poor pay and benefits and a negative workplace culture. This is clearly a major risk for the quality and safety of patient care, which is only set to increase in demand.
"Early in their chosen career, nursing staff are feeling forced out by the poor pay levels. Every one of these people should have many years and thousands of patients ahead of them - they are not just a loss now but for twenty years to come.
“The reasons why nursing staff are leaving the profession they love have yet to be addressed. Until they are, our profession, and the patients they care for, stand on the precipice of a crisis. Time’s running out to address these issues. We have set out standards that must underpin workforce planning across the UK to keep patients safe. We are also calling for clear accountability for delivering the workforce needed for safe and effective care in the upcoming Health and Social Care Bill.”