The UK’s largest nursing union warned of a workforce “exodus” with tens of thousands of young staff leaving the profession, according to The Guardian.
NHS bosses backed calls for ministers to meet unions to agree on a pay deal and avoid further strike action. Nearly 43,000 nurses across the UK in the early stages of their careers have quit over the past five years, figures from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) show – almost equal to the record 47,000 nursing posts now vacant in NHS England.
The RCN said the loss of nurses aged 21 to 50 and midwives was “extremely concerning”. Many of those leaving between 2018 and 2022 variously said stress, burnout, inability to deliver adequate care, poor workplace culture, the pandemic and being underpaid were behind their decisions to leave.
The RCN’s report, Valuing Nursing in the UK, comes as the union plans to escalate its pay dispute by withdrawing staff from emergency departments, intensive care and cancer wards in the next round of industrial action.
Dates for the next strikes by nurses in England are expected to be announced within days, with the action expected to take place within a couple of weeks.
The RCN has demanded a 19% pay rise for this year, but its general secretary, Pat Cullen, has said she will call off action if ministers prove willing to discuss matching the 7% offer made by the Welsh government.
Nurses in England have so far been given 4%, as recommended by the NHS pay review body, and ministers have refused to offer more.
“Neither trust leaders nor their staff want patients to be impacted, but frontline workers feel they’ve been pushed to take action due to their challenging working conditions and pay levels,” Cordery said. “The only way to avert more disruption is to bring the strikes to an end, which means the government must talk to the unions now about pay for this financial year.”
The RCN’s report, which draws on data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council, shows that many early-stage nurses who have quit since 2018 have left health and social care work completely. The findings build on analysis from the King’s Fund thinktank last year which found that two-thirds of nurses leaving the NHS were under the age of 45.
The report says better pay, improved opportunities to reach leadership roles, and career progression are important to retain young nurses and keep staff from leaving.
Image source: The Guardian