More than 40,000 nurses have left the NHS in England in the past year, an analysis by the Nuffield Trust has revealed.
The analysis, conducted by the think tank for the BBC, said that this is the highest number and proportion of nurses leaving the NHS since trend data began.
It found that many of these nurses were often highly skilled and knowledgeable with many more years of work left.
There have been just 4,000 more nurses joining than leaving in the NHS in England, the analysis found, with 44,500 joining compared with 40,365 leaving in the year to June 2022. This is equivalent to one in nine nurses quitting their jobs this year.
Unless the government does something, the target to recruit an extra 50,000 nurses in England will not be met during this parliament, the think tank said.
“Liz Truss must ask herself why record numbers are quitting a career they’ve loved”
The trend is “even more stark” in Scotland, the data found, as 7,470 nurses left in the year to March 2022, equivalent to one in nine nurses. The Nuffield Trust said there was no corresponding data for Wales or Northern Ireland.
The data identified differences in leaving rates among different NHS providers.
The highest average nurse leaver rates were in community provider trusts, at one in six nurses leaving this year (16.8%). Care trusts, which were described as those which provide “closer health and social care services particularly for the elderly”, were also high at one in seven (14.7%) nurses leaving.
The lowest average reported rates of leaving were in non-specialist acute trusts, at one in eight nurses (from 11.8% for small acute to 12.4% for multi-service acute).
When breaking the leaver rates down into the country of training, around 3.7% of nurses, midwives and nursing associates who trained in the UK left the register in the year to March 2022.
This was compared to 7.9% of those who trained in the European Union (EU) or European Econmic Area (EEA) and 1.6% of those who trained elsewhere overseas.
The analysis cited a recent report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which examined some of the factors associated with NHS staff leaving the acute sector.
This too found that compared to British nurses, EU-nationals were more likely to leave the NHS whereas those reporting a nationality other than British or EU are less likely to leave.
The latest report from the Nuffield Trust also noted that staff who trained overseas accounted for the vast majority (nine-tenths) in the growth in numbers in the last year, with a net increase of 2,070 more UK-trained nurses, midwives and nursing associates compared to 19,564 for overseas.
The data found that work-life balance is the second most common reason for all staff leaving their role, after retirement. Meanwhile, there has also been an increase in the number of staff leaving due to health reasons.
The report comes as a survey from NHS Providers revealed that the rising cost of living is driving nurses out of the NHS and into better paid roles in hospitality and retail.
Dr Billy Palmer, who wrote the report alongside Lucina Rolewicz, told the BBC there were “deep-rooted issues with working practices and employment conditions” which were causing nurses to leave.
He said that this data should be an “urgent wake-up call” to the reality of the nursing workforce crisis.
Responding to the analysis, the Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, urged the prime minister, Liz Truss, to “ask herself why record numbers are quitting a career they’ve loved”.
“And, more importantly, tell us what her government will do about it,” added Ms Cullen.
“We need the prime minister to show she’s grasped the urgency here. Nursing staff know that the care they give to patients is now too often unsafe.”
Ms Cullen warned that next week nurses in the NHS will be voting on strike action, and “telling the prime minister that she must grip this situation” by paying nurses fairly.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton echoed these concerns, stating it is “no wonder” there is growing support for strike action among nurses.
“Nurses and all health staff are passionate about making a difference for patients but colossal staff shortages and low pay mean it’s no wonder nurses are burned out, fed up and quitting in droves,” Ms Gorton said.
She added that nurses are finding better-paid work elsewhere, including leaving the profession altogether.
“The government must wake up to this crisis and increase all health workers’ wages above inflation. The NHS and patients will be filled with dread at suggestions of public spending cuts following the government’s reckless tax gamble.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “As the health and social care secretary has said, we are focused on delivering for patients on the issues they care about most, this includes easing pressure on ambulances, clearing the Covid backlogs, supporting discharge from hospital and ensuring improved access to doctors and dentists. All of this will be driven by a bolstered workforce.”
They added that there are over 29,000 more nurses working in the NHS now compared with September 2019, so they are “over halfway to delivering [their] commitment to have 50,000 more nurses in the NHS by 2024”.
Meanwhile, they also cited the long-term workforce plan that they have commissioned NHS England to develop “to help recruit and retain more NHS staff”.