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2,750 nurses and midwives in Scotland left professional register in 2021-22

The number of nurses and midwives is ‘moving slowly upwards’ – but there has also been an increase in those leaving the profession, a new report showed (Andrew Milligan/PA)
The number of nurses and midwives is ‘moving slowly upwards’ – but there has also been an increase in those leaving the profession, a new report showed (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The number of nursing and midwifery staff in Scotland is moving “slowly upwards”, despite 2,750 quitting the profession last year.

A new report from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) showed that the number of nurses and midwives registered in Scotland had increased, to a total of 71,802 in March 2022

That is an increase of 1,013 on the previous year’s total, and means Scotland has 2,893 more nurses than were on the register in March 2018.

  • In March 2018 there were 68,909 on the NMC register
  • By March 2021 that had risen to 70,789
  • And by March 2021 there were 71,802 professionals on the register

The register shows the number of nurses and midwives eligible to practise – but not all those on it will currently be working.

Colin Poolman of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, meanwhile, said the country had seen the “lowest increase” of any of the four nations in the UK in terms of registered staff.

The NMC report also showed a rise in the number of nurses and midwives leaving the profession

A total of 2,750 nurses and midwifes left the register in 2021-22 – with the number of leavers having increased after falling for two consecutive years previously.

The figures for Scotland showed a 16.3% increase in the number of leavers between 2020-21 and 2021-22.

Looking at the picture across the UK, Andrea Sutcliffe, NMC chief executive and registrar, said retirement and changing personal circumstances would always be the most common reasons for nurses and midwives to leave.

But she added: “Our latest report confirms the third most common reason was too much pressure, with stress and poor mental health being factors in many people’s decision to stop practising.

“Midwives were the most likely to cite this reason, closely followed by mental health nurses.”

To tackle this, Ms Sutcliffe said there must be a “focus on retention as well as attracting new recruits”.

Meanwhile Colin Poolman, the director of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, insisted “urgent action” was needed to address workforce challenges.

He said: “While numbers of registered nurses are moving slowly upwards, Scotland has seen the lowest increase of the four nations and the loss of 2,750 nursing and midwifery staff is being felt across health and social care services.

“Staff shortages have been impacting on patient care and the wellbeing of nurses and nursing support workers, long before the pandemic.

“With over 6,000 nursing and midwifery vacancies in the NHS and significant shortages of registered nurses within Scotland’s care homes, more must be done to retain current nursing staff and ensure nursing is attractive, well paid and meaningfully supported.”

Mr Poolman added: “We’re calling for urgent action to address Scotland’s nursing workforce challenges. Nursing staff deserve to be recognised for the complexity of skill and expertise they demonstrate every day and rewarded fairly for the job they do.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “There are vast numbers of unfilled vacancies for nurses. On the SNP’s watch, nursing is simply not an attractive enough profession to attract the staff the NHS needs.”

He said “urgent action” was needed to “put in place the workforce that the NHS needs to flourish”.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “If Humza Yousaf can’t do that, we will need a new Health Secretary.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said staffing is at a “record high”.

They said: “We are immensely grateful for the incredible efforts of all of our NHS and social care staff over the course of the pandemic.

“Staffing is at a record high level following ten consecutive years of growth, with overall staffing up by over 22% since 2006.

“Our national strategy commits to increasing the NHS workforce even further, with 1,800 additional full-time posts on top of projected workforce growth requirements.

“There has been an increase in the number of student midwifery places this year and the shortened midwifery course for existing staff is now opening for its second year, which will help deliver safe, effective quality care for women and their families, as well as developing our existing workforce.

“The £10,000 non-means tested and non-repayable bursary and free tuition, combined with placement expenses and free uniforms for eligible students, make student nurses and midwives studying in Scotland the best-supported in the UK.

“To maintain our staffing levels, it is critical staff wellbeing is looked after and they are able to take the rest breaks and leave to which they are entitled, as well as being given time to access national and local wellbeing resources at work.

“That is why we made £12 million available in 2021-22 to support the mental health and wellbeing of the workforce.”