Number of nurses grows but there are ‘stormy waters ahead’, warns NMC

Almost half of the permanent register’s total growth comes from people who originally trained in the Philippines and India. 

Laura Townsend
9 July 2020
nurse preparing IV medications

The number of nurses, midwives, and nursing associates has grown 18,000 in the past year.

The total number of nurses, midwives and nursing associates on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s (NMC) permanent register has risen but the regulator warns that there could be “stormy waters ahead”.


Annual registration data report from the regulator shows the number of people on its permanent register has grown 18,000 in the past year – but also warns not all will be working in the field.

The rise is thought to be driven by nurses and midwives deciding to work in the UK permanently after joining the temporary Covid-19 register alongside a 300% increase in the number of registered nursing associates.

The NMC’s latest figures highlight an increase to the permanent register of 9,012 nurses and midwives from the UK while the number of people leaving the register from the UK is at a five-year low of 21,306.

The figures also show the numbers of nursing and midwifery professionals from within the EEA continue to decline, with a 5% decrease from the previous year.


Almost half of the permanent register’s total growth comes from people who originally trained in the Philippines and India.

Unsustainable growth.

The regulators Chief Executive and Registrar Andrea Sutcliffe warns that the COVID-19 pandemic may reduce the flow of new registrants from overseas and that the significant growth seen recently may not be sustained.

Andrea Sutcliffe CBE, Chief Executive, and Registrar said: “Covid-19 has meant the vital skills, specialism and resilience of our nursing and midwifery professionals have never been more publicly recognised and valued. It’s therefore great to celebrate record numbers of people on the NMC register.

“However, while the increased figures from within the UK and overseas are very welcome for everyone working in and using health and care services, there are potential stormy waters ahead.


“As a result of the pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions, we may no longer be able to rely on the flow of professionals joining our register from overseas in the same way. Going forwards, the significant growth we’ve seen recently may not be sustained.

“Nor can we afford to ignore existing pressures, exposed and exacerbated by Covid-19, which may challenge employers’ ability to retain our essential nursing and midwifery professionals as health and care services seek to recover.

“We all need to use the insight our registration data reveals to focus on creating the right environment, conditions and incentives to support the sustainable recruitment and retention of nursing and midwifery staff now and for the future.”

Nearing retirement.

The report acknowledges the NMC’s establishment of its Covid-19 temporary register to help support the UK’s response during the emergency period. This is with its numbers doubling from the end of March 2020 to more than 14,000. These people are not counted in the overall numbers on the permanent register.

The Royal College of Nursing warns of an aging workforce with a third on the register over 50 – nearing retirement.


Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary, said: “The NMC’s data shows that too often people quit nursing because of the level of pressure, making shortages even more acute. It’s tough going to work every day when there aren’t enough of you and there is seemingly little light at the end of the tunnel.

“Many of our professionals are in the later stages of their career – a third on the register are over 50. These are extremely experienced nurses, who also support new nurses as they choose to join us. There is every reason to aim for oversupply to boost our profession and keep patients safe.”

Nurses United UK echos these warnings, a spokesperson said; “We all know that half of the NMC register are set to retire in the next 10 years. So it’s strange to be celebrating that it took a global pandemic for fewer people to decide to quit the profession?

“Nurses still cite stress and burnout as a major reason to leave. Pay them more, give them safe staffing ratios and find a living bursary and then we should celebrate”

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