The number of nurses registered to work in the UK has hit a record high, the nursing regulator has said, at it warned against unethical recruiting practises from countries with their own health workforce challenges.
Some 808,488 nurses, midwives and nursing associates are now registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) – a rise of almost 20,000 in half a year.
This includes 748,528 nurses; 42,974 midwives and 10,560 nursing associates – all record highs, the NMC said.
But it comes amid a rise in the number of people joining the register from so-called “red list” countries.
These countries have their own health and care workforce-related problems and under ethical recruiting guidance the NHS is told not to actively recruit workers from these places.
Figures from the report show that 3,071 people joined the nursing register from red list countries in the six months to September 30.
Overall there were 24,905 professionals from red list countries on the register on September 30 2023.
But the overall NMC figures just show that these people have come from red list countries and have registered to work in the UK, the data do not show if they are in active employment.
The new NMC figures show a rising number of UK joiners.
Some 30,103 people joined the nursing register in the six months to September 30, including 15,067 from the UK.
Meanwhile the proportion of nurses from black and minority ethnic backgrounds is now 29.1%.
Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive and registrar at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), said: “Strong recruitment and steady retention have taken our register of nurses, midwives and nursing associates to another record high. This is very encouraging given the well-publicised pressure on health and care services at a time of rising demand for care.
“Our register is now showing 50-50 recruitment between UK and internationally educated nursing and midwifery professionals. All these professionals make a vital and welcome contribution to people’s health and well-being.
“However, it’s important that employers continue to be mindful of the Government’s ethical recruitment code, since we’re seeing many joiners from ‘red list’ countries.
“People from across the world want to come and work in the UK. However, employers must not undermine health systems in countries with the most pressing workforce challenges through active recruitment.”
Commenting on the new NMC figures, Sean O’ Sullivan, head of health policy at the Royal College of Midwives, said that there was a shortfall of around 2,500 midwives in the NHS in England, adding: “While it’s positive to see the number of people trained and registered as midwives is rising, this is not the same as the number of midwives working in the NHS.”
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief nurse, Professor Nicola Ranger, said: “The headline findings of this report don’t reflect what nurses are seeing on the NHS frontline.
“Since 2019, the NHS waiting list has grown four times faster than the nurse workforce, meaning there aren’t enough staff to provide the outstanding care patients deserve.
“The Government’s over-reliance on unethical international recruitment from red-list countries has become the norm and cannot continue. It’s a false economy.
“The Government should invest in nursing staff in the UK, funding nurse education and fair pay – not destabilising other health care systems.”
It comes after nurses said they were “appalled” by the deal struck between the Government and consultants in England, which will see some get a pay rise of around 19%.
The RCN did not agree to the pay deal which saw them get a 5% pay rise 2023/24 and a cash sum for last year, but union members decided not to continue with strikes after it was imposed in the summer.
However, the RCN reacted angrily over the pay award offered to the nation’s top doctors, suggesting the news would make nursing strikes “more likely in the future”.
It has called on the Government to reopen talks about nursing pay.
Commenting on the NMC figures, Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said: “Nurses are integral to delivering high quality care to millions of patients each and every day and I am thrilled that we now have record numbers of registered nurses in England.
“Recognising that we need to go further, the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan commits to doubling the number of adult nurse training placements by 2031 so that we can build on the important progress that has already been made.”