Almost 5,000 EU nurses and midwives have left the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register in the last two years, the regulatory body has announced.
Figures published by the NMC today reveal that from a peak of 38,024 in March 2017, the number has dropped to 33,035 this year – a 13% reduction.
Just over half, 51%, of survey respondents who trained within the EU cited Brexit as one of their top three reasons for considering working outside the UK.
In the last year there has, however, been a surge in the number of nurses and midwives from outside the EU registering to work in the UK for the first time.
The NMC Register report revealed a 126% rise in registrants from outside the EU, from 2,724 in 2017/18 to 6,157 in 2018/19.
The upsurge in non-EU nurses has contributed to one of the biggest rises in overall numbers on the register in recent years, with around 8,000 more nurses and midwives registered compared to last year.
In total, there are now 698,237 nurses on the register, up from 690,278 in 2018.
There has also been an increase of around 5,000 registered UK-trained nurses, midwives and, in England only, nursing associates.
This is driven by 1,567 more joining the register, and a decrease in those leaving.
Of the 3,504 nurses and midwives who left the register between May 2018 and October 2018 and who were surveyed by the NMC, half listed retirement as the top reason for leaving.
This was followed by pressure including stress and resulting poor mental health (30%) and a change in personal circumstances (26%).
The figures follow changes to the NMC application process, including allowing nurses and midwives trained outside the EU to apply to work in the UK immediately after qualifying. Previously, they had to have worked for at least 12 months.
NMC chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe said that she was ‘delighted’ to see an increase in the number of nurses, midwives and nursing associates joining the register.
She continued: ‘It’s encouraging to know this is being driven by both UK trained and overseas professionals.
‘It’s clear the changes we’ve introduced – to make it more straightforward for those people with the right skills and knowledge to come and work here from abroad – are making a real difference.
‘However, we only have to look at the well documented concerns around high vacancy and turnover rates that exist right across health and social care to know there’s a long way to go before we have all the people we need to ensure the best and safest care for everyone.
‘And while there has been a drop in the number of people leaving the register, our survey fires yet another warning shot – that the pressures nurses and midwives face are real and must be taken seriously if we are to properly attract, support and retain the workforce that we need now, and for the future.’
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘Any boost to the register is good news but looking behind the headlines raises further concerns.
‘Politicians should be alarmed by the finding that almost one in three quit nursing because of intolerable pressure. They have abused the goodwill of nurses for too long and that dam is starting to burst.
‘The modest increases are not of the scale or kind needed to meet demand and the workforce crisis isn’t abating. It is inappropriate to rely on a steady stream of nurses from beyond the EU, which seems to be the plan in England in particular.
‘The official figures reveal a big net loss in European nurses, with fears over Brexit cited as the main reason for leaving and partly driving efforts to recruit from even further afield.
‘Every country of the UK needs a serious strategy for the domestic workforce to recruit, train and retain a new generation of nurses and have accountability set in law.’
A version of this story was first published on our sister publication Nursing in Practice.