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November 2018

Number of registered nurses increases but NHS faces massive shortages

The number of nurses and midwives registered to work in the UK increased by almost 4,000 in the past twelve months, according to latest figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

At the end of September there were 693,618 nurses and midwives registered to work in the UK – the highest September level in recent years. But the number of registrants from EU continues to decline with 2,385 fewer EU nurses and midwives registered to work.

The number of people trained in the UK and registered to work has increased by 3,457 over the last 12 months, while numbers from outside the EU have increased by 2,808.

However, a new report from a coalition of 36 health and social care organisations reveals the NHS could be short of 51,000 nurses – enough to staff 45 hospitals – by the end of the Brexit transition period.

The report ‘Brexit and the Health and Social Care Workforce in the UK’, commissioned by the Cavendish Coalition, forecasts a potential shortfall of around 5,000 to 10,000 nurses in the NHS in England by 2021. That is on top of existing vacancies, which stood at 41,722 (11.8% of all positions) at the end of June, the latest period for which NHS Improvement figures are available.

Sue Killen, Interim Chief Executive and Registrar of the NMC, said: ‘These figures paint an improving picture. We’re seeing increasing numbers of home grown nurses and midwives, while it’s clear that improvements to the way we register people from outside the EU are making a real difference to the numbers ready and able to deliver the very best care to people across the UK.

‘However, it’s not all good news as there is a continuing decline in nurses and midwives applying to join the register from the EU.’

In the 12 months since the referendum, before the UK has formally left the EU, the number of EEA nurse joiners to the NHS in England fell by 17.6% while the number of leavers rose by 15.3%.

RCN deputy director of nursing Stephanie Aiken, said: 'This positive overall headline increase in the size of the workforce risks masking severe instability. Our European colleagues are continuing to leave rather than face post-Brexit uncertainty.

'Despite the alarming number of vacant nurse jobs, the number of newly qualified domestic nurses is falling, not rising – that is even before nursing students lost their funding two years ago.’

Ms Killen agreed: ‘Despite the overall increase in numbers it remains difficult to predict what will happen in the coming years. That’s because it’s unlikely that we’ve seen the full impact of the decision in 2017 to remove the bursary for students.’