Record number of nurses are quitting NHS amid cost-of-living crisis

Record number of nurses are quitting NHS: Unions warn thousands of staff are leaving for better-paid pub and restaurant jobs

  • Over 40,000 nurses left the NHS this year, 9% of the total workforce, data shows
  • The cost-of-living-crisis and pay cuts are driving staff to seek better jobs in retail
  • Some hospital bosses are now opening internal food banks as staff skip meals 
  • One ex-nurse quit as she felt she was letting families down due to short staffing

Record numbers of nurses are quitting the NHS in England, with some ditching the health service for better paid jobs in retail, a pair of new analyses warn.

More than 40,000 have left the health service in the past year – nearly a tenth of the workforce, according to NHS data examined by the Nuffield Trust.

Many of these were highly skilled and knowledgeable nurses with potentially years more work left ahead before they quit, meaning they can’t be replaced like-for-like with new joiners. 

And a survey by NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England, found two thirds reported a ‘significant or severe impact’ from staff leaving for other sectors like retail with better terms and conditions amidst the cost-of-living crisis. 

Some trusts have reported paying staff in advance for fuel to get to work while others have helped to buy school uniforms for their workers’ children with staff skipping meals to afford them.

Nearly half of trusts, 47 per cent, have either opened a food bank for staff, or are planning to do so.

One former children’s cancer nurse, Amanda Turpie from Leeds, told BBC Radio 4 that effective pay cuts due to inflation had devastated the workforce.   

 ‘They’ve made so many nurses leave, we’re so short staffed, we were constantly running on low numbers,’ she said. 

Having quit the NHS to run a coffee shop, she said had become burnout after spending so much time on her nursing shits trying to get more staff. 

Official NHS data shows efforts to get more nurses into the health service are only barely keeping pace with the number of experienced nurses quitting

‘I felt that I spent every single shift trying to manage who was going to be in the next shift, who was going to be in the shift after that,’ she said. 

‘I was completely burnout. I didn’t feel that I was meeting the mark anymore, I felt like I was letting families down, I was letting parents down.’

‘I was coming home every single night feeling like “I could have done that better today” or “I should have hugged that mum tighter today”. No one can live like that forever.’

The Nuffield Trust warned that unless something is done, the Government will struggle to hit its target to recruit an extra 50,000 nurses in England during this Parliament.

Responding, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it is planning to publish a workforce strategy and is half-way towards its nurse recruitment target.

But official NHS data shows there were just 4,000 more nurse joiners than leavers, meaning the high number of leavers is almost cancelling out the rise in new joiners. 

Nuffield Trust senior fellow, Dr Billy Palmer, told the BBC the data was an ‘urgent wake-up call’ for Government.

‘Nurses are integral to the functioning of the health service, so it should be an urgent wake-up call that one in nine left their posts in the year,’ he said. 

The INTER-national health service. This graph shows the country of training of all newly registered nurses and midwives in the UK over the past five years. British trained nurses make the majority with about 120,000 joiners with India coming second with about 21,000, Philippines third with nearly 18,000 and Nigeria fourth with with nearly 5,000

Pneumonia-stricken woman, 96, was left on a trolley in A&E for 40 HOURS because of a lack of beds 

A 96-year-old woman battling pneumonia was left on a trolley in A&E for 40 hours.

Pensioner Evelyn Gaw could not be moved to a ward because of a lack of beds, the Health Secretary was told yesterday.

In the latest shocking example of NHS chaos under the SNP, the former headmistress was left ‘frightened, crying, breathless and disorientated’ in a draughty corridor at an Ayrshire hospital.

The case was described as ‘morally abhorrent’ to Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, who faced demands to tear up and rewrite his NHS recovery plan.

During a Holyrood debate on the health service crisis, Scottish Tory health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane raised the case of the great-grandmother, who was taken to A&E by ambulance after collapsing last Thursday.

Her son, a GP of 39 years, said his mother felt that she had ‘lost her dignity’ because of the ‘disastrous and completely unacceptable’ situation at University Hospital Crosshouse in Kilmarnock.

‘While every year we would expect nurses to retire, it is very concerning to see the numbers who cite the reasons for considering or actually leaving as health concerns or work-life balance,’ he said. 

The data also showed the proportion of nurses quitting in Scotland is almost exactly the same as England, while similar data is not available in Wales and Northern Ireland, other indicators suggest they are seeing significant numbers leaving.

For the analysis, the Nuffield Trust used data provided by NHS Digital, which tracks the number of nurses joining and leaving over the course of the year.

It looked at those in permanent roles at NHS trusts that provide hospital, community, and mental health care.

Nurses working in the community, who are one part of the beleaguered social care system in England, were the most likely to have left their job. 

The Royal College of Nursing’s general secretary Pat Cullen said the Government needed to address the exodus of staff. 

 ‘Liz Truss must ask herself why record numbers are quitting a career they’ve loved. And, more importantly, tell us what her government will do about it,’ she said, 

‘Next week, nurses left working in the NHS will be voting on strike action and telling the prime minister that she must grip this situation – pay nursing fairly and give health and care services the investment the public expects.’

And it’s not just nurses that are feeling the crunch of rising costs. 

Senior NHS figures told NHS Providers they are seeing ‘huge numbers’ of staff in their trusts taking other jobs, or considering second jobs, outside of the health service.

Staff are also struggling to afford to go to work, with 71 per cent of trust managers surveyed saying this was having a significant or severe impact on their trust.

While the cost-of-living crisis is affecting lower paid staff the most, the pressures are being felt across the board, NHS Providers said.

In some trusts, managers have described how sickness rates rise towards the end of the month as pay packets run out, with people no longer able to afford the journey to work.

Some trusts have reported paying staff in advance for fuel while others have helped to buy school uniforms for their workers’ children.

All those surveyed by NHS Providers, representing 54 per cent of trust leaders, said they were worried about the mental, physical, and financial wellbeing of staff as a result of the cost-of-living pressures.

And 61 per cent reported a rise in staff sickness absence due to mental health.

Overall, 27 per cent of trusts are now offering food banks for staff, while a further 19 per cent are planning to do so.

When it comes to patients, 95 per cent of trust leaders said the cost-of-living crisis had either significantly or severely worsened health inequalities in their local area.

Patients are being forced to make difficult choices about heating or eating, while some are attending fewer appointments due to travel costs.

Overall, 72 per cent of trust leaders said they had seen an increase in people with poor mental health due to stress, debt, and poverty.

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said increasing numbers of nurses and other staff, particularly in the lower pay bands, are finding they are unable to afford to work in the NHS.

‘The squeeze on pay and the rising cost of living means they are having to make some very tough decisions,’ she said.

‘The sad fact is some can earn more working for online retailers or in supermarkets.

‘Others are taking second jobs. We have heard of staff stopping their pension contributions and not being able to fill up their cars to get to work.’

This chart shows the proportion of nurses joining the NHS in England based on where they originally trained. it shows how the number of UK trained joiners has decreased over time (red lines) whereas the number of non-EU trained professionals has increased (yellow lines). The proportion of EU professionals joining the NHS has declined over time, taking a sharp dive in the years after the 2016  Brexit vote 

She added that apart from the impact on recruitment and retention they were ‘heart-rending’ stories of personal struggles. 

‘A number of trusts are providing food banks. There are heart-rending stories of nurses choosing between eating during the day and being able to buy a school uniform for their children at home,’ she said. 

Short staffing is behind many of the NHS’s woes. It leaves hospitals with not enough professionals to man beds leading to reduced A&E capacity and contributing to the record backlogs. 

The Government has repeatedly turned to international recruitment to shore up its nursing workforce in recent years.

In August an analysis of NHS data revealed a third of nurses who joined the NHS in England last year were originally trained overseas.

India, the Philippines, and Nigeria are the biggest providers of overseas trained nurses and midwives currently registered to work in the UK.

A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘There are over 29,000 more nurses working in the NHS now compared with September 2019, so we are over halfway to delivering on our commitment to have 50,000 more nurses in the NHS by 2024.’ 

‘We have also commissioned NHS England to develop a long-term workforce plan to help recruit and retain more NHS staff.’

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