'Dire': Exodus of nurses from workforce increasing faster in Scotland than rest of UK

The number of nurses and midwives quitting the profession accelerated in Scotland in the year to September 2022, with a year-on-year increase higher than in any other part of the UK
The number of nurses and midwives quitting the profession accelerated in Scotland in the year to September 2022, with a year-on-year increase higher than in any other part of the UK

NURSING leaders have warned that the profession in Scotland is facing an exodus of staff amid “dire” working conditions.

A new report from the Royal College of Nursing said the UK’s “overreliance” on international nursing staff “has the potential to deplete the workforce in other countries”, and urged employers to do more to retain experienced staff.

The report noted that “high numbers of nursing staff are leaving the profession every year, and too few are joining to replace them, as the demand for health care continues to increase”.

The RCN also highlighted evidence from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register showing that 2,690 nurses and midwives with addresses in Scotland had left the register in the 12 months to September 2022 - meaning they were no longer practising either on the NHS or privately.

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This was an increase of 13 per cent compared to the previous 12 month period, and compares to year-on-year increases of 7% in Wales, 4% in England, and 3% in Northern Ireland.

UK-wide, one in five (19%) of those who quit the NMC register in the 12 months to September 2022 had been nursing for less than 10 years.

They may have been qualified for longer, however, as nurses and midwives can leave and re-join the register, for example to take a career break or time away to raise a family.

A further 16% of leavers in the same period left after being on the register between 10 to 20 years.

The RCN, the Royal College of Midwives, and the GMB trade unions remain in dispute with the Scottish Government over pay, but proposed strike action has been paused while negotiations for the 2022/23 award continue on an “accelerated timetable”.

Talks are expected to conclude by the end of February.

NHS staff on Agenda for Change contracts - which do not include doctors - have been awarded average uplifts of 7.5%, backdated to April 2022.

Lower-earning staff will receive larger increases, but the RCN argued that the deal still falls far short of inflation with salaries already eroded by more than a decade of real-terms pay cuts.

Currently, around one in 10 nursing posts in Scotland are vacant - equivalent to a shortfall of around 4,600 full-time staff.

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Colin Poolman, director of RCN Scotland, said: “The increasing numbers of nurses leaving the profession speaks volumes about the dire state that ministers have allowed nursing to fall into through years of underfunding and neglect.

“Nurses are under constant pressure and stress, are regularly working extra, unpaid hours to cover staffing gaps and are then going home feeling like they’ve been unable to provide the quality of care that they want. The toll this takes on staff wellbeing cannot be overestimated.”

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said nurses were “overworked, underpaid, and being forced to work in increasingly challenging environments.

She added: “The fact that more nurses are leaving the profession in Scotland than the rest of the UK is especially concerning.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish LibDem leader and health spokesman, said nurses had “gone over and above the call of duty for too long”.

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A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Overall NHS staffing and nursing have grown under this government, and we’re committed to supporting nurses with the best pay anywhere in the UK.

“We welcome the constructive negotiations with trade unions, including the RCN, on pay and conditions for NHS Agenda for Change Staff and we hope to deliver a pay offer that responds to the key concerns of staff across the service.

“Talks continue in confidence and we hope to secure agreement in due course.”