THE NUMBER of nurses, midwives and nursing associates registered to practise in the UK has grown to a record total of 788,638. This means the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register is now equivalent to 1.2 per cent of the estimated UK population. 

Underlying this strong growth, 2022–2023 saw the highest number of new joiners to the NMC’s register in a single year – 52,148. Almost half (25,006) were internationally educated, while the number of UK educated joiners rose by 8.5 per cent to more than 27,142.

With international recruitment continuing at a significant rate, professionals educated around the world now account for one in five nurses, midwives and nursing associates who can practise in the UK.

Most international joiners are from outside Europe and tend to be more ethnically diverse than the register they are joining. UK joiners are also becoming more ethnically diverse – almost a third of last year’s domestically educated joiners are from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

The increasing ethnic diversity of new nurses, midwives and nursing associates, whether educated at home or abroad, means the profile of the NMC register is changing. Over the past year the proportion of all registered professionals who are from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds has risen to 27.7 per cent – more than a quarter of the register.

Responding to the publication of the registration figures, James Buchan, senior fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “It’s positive that the total number of nurses and midwives on the register increased by over 30,000 in the year to March 2023. However, with over 43,000 nurse vacancies in NHS trusts in England alone, recruiting and retaining sufficient nurses remains critical to addressing the NHS workforce crisis.

“Almost half of the new nurses and midwives joining the register in the last year were educated outside the UK, which once again reinforces how reliant we have become on recruitment from abroad to tackle domestic shortages. The number of new international registrants is now at its highest point in over three decades. This continued reliance on international “quick fix” recruitment carries the risk that the UK is not investing in its domestic supply of nurses.

“It is also striking that one in 10 of all the new registrants are from World Health Organisation ‘red list’ countries that experience severe staffing shortages, such as Nigeria and Ghana – a tenfold increase from four years ago, where red list countries accounted for just one per cent of new registrants.

“The NMC’s survey of people leaving the register also paints a concerning picture, with over half of respondents saying they are leaving the profession earlier than planned, pointing to burnout, lack of support and high workload as contributing factors.

“In order to retain existing nurses, and train and recruit the skilled professionals we need, a fully funded long term workforce plan for the NHS and social care is urgently needed and long overdue.”

The Nursing and Midwifery Council is the regulator for nursing and midwifery professions across the UK. The NMC maintains a register of all nurses, midwives and specialist community public health nurses and nursing associates eligible to practise within England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

* Read the Nursing and Midwifery Council annual registration data here.

Sources: Nursing and Midwifery Council and The Health Foundation