Concerns have been raised about the UK’s overreliance on overseas nurses and midwives after new figures suggest that a significant number of new workers come from abroad.
Almost half (48%) of the 48,436 people who joined the nursing and midwifery workforce in the last year have come from different countries, with the vast majority (66%) coming from India and the Philippines.
Leading nurses questioned how sustainable it is to “recruit half of all new nurses from around the world”.
It comes as the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) released it annual figures on the numbers of nurses and midwives registered to work in the UK.
While the figures suggest an overall increase in the number of staff – with some 758,300 now registered to work in Britain – concerns have been raised about the rising number of people leaving the register.
A total of 27,133 people left the NMC register in 2021/22 – 13% more than the year before.
Among 6,500 nurses and midwives who responded to a “leavers’ survey” ,the top reasons for leaving were retirement, personal circumstances or “too much pressure”.
The report states that stress and poor mental health are factors in “many people’s decision to stop practising”.
Midwives were the most likely to cite this reason, closely followed by mental health nurses.
The figures also suggest one in five nurses and midwives (21%) working in the UK are “of potential retirement age”.
Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive and registrar at the NMC, said: “Our register is at the highest level ever. This is good news considering all the pressures of the last two years but a closer look at our data reveals some warning signs.
“The total number of people leaving the register has risen, after a steady and welcome fall over the previous four years.
“Another note of caution is that growth of the workforce has become more reliant on internationally trained professionals joining our register.
“These professionals make a welcome and vital contribution to our nation’s health and wellbeing. But we can’t take them for granted.
“Two years ago, we felt the pandemic’s impact on global travel; the number of international joiners to our register fell sharply. A future pandemic or other global disruption could see history repeat itself, but with an even bigger impact on the overall growth of the register.
“We also need to make sure that we are supporting, valuing and rewarding our internationally trained joiners so their careers can thrive in the UK.”
Commenting on the figures, Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The loss of 25,000 registered nurses last year is being felt profoundly by both patients and nurses alike.
“When we have tens of thousands of vacant nurse jobs, a sharp rise in leavers should not be overlooked while we welcome new recruits.
“Ministers should avoid overclaiming today – nursing staff tell us these shortages are biting more than ever.
“We again question how sustainable it is to recruit half of all new nurses from around the world. The UK’s health and care workforce is proudly diverse, but it must be done ethically and come at the same time as increased investment in education and domestic workers.
“In the interests of safe patient care, ministers across the UK must act decisively to retain today’s experienced nurses and inspire tomorrow’s.”
Gill Walton, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, added: “We are already 2,000 midwives short in England, yet the number in the NHS continues to fall while demands on maternity services grow.
“Other UK countries are also facing pressures.
“This is not sustainable and is without doubt having an impact on the safety and quality of care for women, babies and their families.
“It is also putting massive and unreasonable pressures on NHS midwives and maternity support workers – already battered by the pandemic – and many are starting to vote with their feet and leave the NHS.”
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, added: “It is concerning to see a rise in the number of nurses, midwives and nursing associates leaving the register, reversing the trend of recent years.
“Workforce shortages across the NHS, with more than 110,000 vacancies, are a huge risk to patient safety by impacting the quality of care that overstretched staff can provide – ‘too much pressure’ is the third most common reason cited by leavers.”