Nursing numbers hit a record high but the workforce is ‘ageing’, warns NMC

The total number of nurses has grown by 1% in the past six months.

Kizzy Bass
18 December 2019
District Nurse

The total number of nurses, midwives and nursing associates has grown.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) have revealed that the number of nurses, nursing associates and midwives registered has increased to an all-time high but warn many professionals are nearing retirement.

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Within a 6-month period from 1st April to 30th September, the number of nurses on the register has grown by 6,669 (1.02%), the number of midwives has grown by 339 (0.92%), and the number of nursing associates has grown by 999 (204%).

This brings the total number of people registered by the NMC to an all-time high of 706,252.

Worryingly, the figures also show the register is ageing. Those in the 61-65 age bracket grew by 2,220 (5.57%) compared to just 1,659 (1.48%) in the 21-30 age group.

The total number of EU nurses dropped by 1,062 (-3.21%).

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Considerable mid-year growth.

Commenting on these figures, Andrea Sutcliffe CBE, Chief Executive and Registrar at the NMC, said: “We know the incredible impact that nurses, midwives and nursing associates have in providing highly skilled and person-centred care for millions of people living across all four countries of the UK. I’m pleased to see such an increase of people on our register.

“It’s important we recognise the enormous contribution that nursing and midwifery professionals from overseas continue to make for people in the UK. It’s clear they are a vital part of our UK health and care workforce, and I’m glad to see the recent changes we’ve made to streamline our processes for those joining the register from outside the UK are making a real difference.

“But the reality is, even with this considerable mid-year growth, there are still serious shortages across the health and care sector – not least in specialist areas such as mental health and learning disabilities.

“With so many on our register nearing retirement age, it’s more important than ever that partners across the system work together to tackle the important issue of recruitment and retention of the essential nursing and midwifery workforce.”

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Urgent investment is needed.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said that while a small rise in numbers is “good news”, there are still around 43,000 unfilled nursing vacancies throughout the NHS in England.

Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the RCN, said: “It’s good news that the number of nurses on the UK register has grown slightly. But this small overall increase comes against a backdrop of rising vacancies in England,”

“It’s also very worrying to learn that there’s been a net loss from the register of over 1,000 nurses from EU countries in just the last six months.  This drop in numbers has clearly been due to continued uncertainty over Brexit.

“The NMC is right to raise concern about the ageing profile of the nursing workforce.  The fact that the number of nurses nearing retirement age is now outstripping those under 30 highlights the huge effort that needs to be put into attracting more students onto nursing degrees. ”

“All these concerns combined mean we need to see urgent investment by  governments across the UK to increase the number of nurses, at a pace that can keep up with the growing pressure on all health and care services.”

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