NHS faces recruitment crisis as nurses retire

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The number of new nurses joining the NHS needs to double within 10 years just to keep staff figures stable, it has been claimed.

The number of new nurses joining the NHS needs to double within 10 years just to keep staff figures stable, it has been claimed.

With 25 per cent of nurses due to retire within the next decade and new entrants to the register stalling, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned of a growing recruitment crisis in the profession. The RCN published the stark analysis of recruitment and retention within nursing on the eve of its annual conference in Harrogate.

Official figures show that 20,000 new, British-trained entrants joined the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) Register in England last year. But a total of 35,000 left the register for a combination of reasons including retirement, going to work abroad or simply getting out of the profession.

This net loss to the register of 15,000 nurses a year is predicted to worsen over the next decade because of an ageing workforce and a worldwide lack of trained, experienced staff.

More than 155,000 nurses are due to retire by 2014 and Britain is already losing foreign recruits to other Western countries offering better pay and conditions.

More than 12,000 foreign nurses a year come onto the NMC register but it is not known how many of them leave within months and many justuse the UK as a "stepping stone'' to getting a job in the more lucrative US hospitals.

The RCN says that by 2014 new entrants to the register will need to more than double, from the 32,000 homegrown and foreign recruits at present to 66,000, simply for present staffing levels to be maintained.

Dr Beverly Malone, general secretary of the RCN, said: "This is a major issue and none of the parties has grasped the nettle of the problem, particularly retention of nurses.

"Flexible working is a big problem; nurses have a very difficult time getting a balance between work and home life and ... go to work in the private sector or for agencies where they can get more of a balance."

She also said that any new government would have to improve bursaries for students and the lives of nursing teachers in order to deal with the crisis.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "There are 77,000 more nurses working now than there were in 1997 and there are more nurses in training than ever before.''

The Government has spent millions of pounds in an effort to stem the recruitment and retention crisis but sometimes with only limited success. A much-publicised attempt to lure nurses who have left the NHS back to working has resulted in little more than 3,000 "returnees'' a year.

More than 5,000 delegates are attending the RCN conference where they will launch a campaign on the hospital superbug MRSA and question the Health Minister, John Hutton, on the Government's record on health.