By Sam Ord
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2806

Tens of thousands of nurses leave over Covid and unbearable pressures in the NHS

Falling real pay will mean more nurses quit
Issue 2806
Nurses and other NHS workers on the march in 2021 with placards such as "Migrants make our NHS"

Nurses and all NHS workers fought for pay in 2021. This time union leaders must be pressured into a real battle (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Workload and job pressures combined with the way the Tories have treated workers during the pandemic pushed over 27,000 nurses and midwives to leave the nursing register last year.

The figure is up 13 percent from the year before. A survey, conducted by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) found 23 percent of leavers blamed Covid pressures.

The report states that stress and poor mental health are factors in “many people’s decision to stop practising”. Midwives were the most likely to cite this reason, closely followed by mental health nurses.

One nurse who left due to workplace pressures told the NMC, “Pressure at work and the change of working practices didn’t allow me to provide the care I wanted to give. Covid restrictions compounded this. I was becoming stressed, tired and not sleeping well.”

Additionally, 37 percent of leavers reported their experience of working during the pandemic had influenced their decision to quit the register.

Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen called for “radical action” to “boost the nursing workforce”.

“With an imminent government decision on NHS pay and the pay review body reports due this month, these figures are a reminder of the scale of the challenge,” she said. “In the interests of safe patient care, ministers must act decisively to retain today’s experienced nurses and inspire tomorrow’s.”

In England the NHS has nearly 40,000 vacant nursing positions.

The report shows how the NHS is completely reliant on nurses and midwives trained overseas with international recruitment growing 760 percent since 2017-18.

The Unison union’s head of health Sara Gorton said, “With more than 500 nurses and midwives leaving every week, there’s no room for government complacency. The pandemic has left deep scars on staff, many of whom are no longer willing to put up with the constant pressure or the lack of value put on their incredible work.

“The huge numbers of overseas staff ​joining must also be welcomed and supported properly. Without an urgent retention package, including an above-inflation pay rise, the NHS will be unable to stem the tide of leavers and waiting lists will continue to grow.”

A key issue will be the next NHS pay increase. Last time workers received only a 3 percent rise in England—4 percent in Scotland, 3 percent plus a one-off 1 percent payment in Wales.

All of these were grossly inadequate, and an insult after the supposed government gratitude for NHS workers’ contribution during the pandemic.

This time there has to be a real battle to win an above-inflation rise, plus more staff and better conditions.

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