New figures show an increase in numbers of nurses and midwives leaving the professions

Figures published today by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) show an increase in the numbers of nurses and midwives leaving the NMC’s register.  At the same time, the numbers joining the register have slowed down resulting in an overall reduction in the numbers of nurses and midwives registered to work in the UK.

While attention has recently been focused on the reducing numbers of EU[1] nurses and midwives applying to work in the UK, the figures[2] published today show that it is mainly UK nurses and midwives who are leaving the register, resulting in the overall downward trend.

Jackie Smith, NMC Chief Executive and Registrar, said:

“Our figures today show for the first time that there are now more nurses and midwives leaving the register than joining it.

“At a time of increased pressure on the healthcare workforce to deliver quality patient care, we hope our data will provide evidence to support government and employers to look in detail at how they can reverse this trend.”

Analysis of the NMC register between 2012/13 and 2016/17 shows that the number of people leaving[3] the register is now outstripping the numbers joining[4]. Between 2016 and 2017, 20 per cent more people left the register than joined it, the first time this has happened in recent history. The difference between joiners and leavers is most pronounced for UK nurses and midwives; the group that makes up around 85 per cent of the NMC’s register. Between 2016 and 2017, 45 per cent more UK registrants left the register than joined it for the first time.

The data also shows that the numbers of nurses and midwives leaving the register before retirement age appears to be increasing. Excluding those who retire, the average age of the rest of those leaving the register has reduced steadily over time from an average of 55 years old in 2013 to 51 years of age in 2017. The data shows that rates of leaving are increasing across all age groups below 60 years of age. This is particularly noticeable for those aged under 40.

Jackie Smith continued:

“Nursing and midwifery are widely acknowledged to be ageing professions, with significant numbers on the register coming up to retirement age. While there’s no denying this is true, our figures show that people below retirement age are leaving in increasing numbers.”

The NMC has also seen an increase in the numbers of verification requests made about UK nurses. Verification requests are made by licensing authorities – often the equivalent of the NMC in different countries - when a nurse or midwife wants to practise outside the UK. Verification requests are an important indicator of the numbers of nurses and midwives who have left or may intend to leave the UK to work in a different country.

UK registrants accounted for 69 per cent of all verification requests in 2013 and rose to 75 per cent of all requests made in 2017.  Most requests come from licensing authorities in Australia, the USA and the Republic of Ireland.  There were 3,562 verification requests made in 2013 and 4,153 made in 2017 for UK registrants. There appears to be a correlation between the rise in verification requests and the decrease in the NMC register.

Earlier this month, the NMC conducted a survey[5] of more than 4,500 nurses and midwives who left the register over the previous 12 months to gauge their reasons for leaving. The top three reasons cited, excluding retirement, were working conditions, (including issues such as staffing levels) 44 per cent; a change in personal circumstances (such as ill health or caring responsibilities) 28 per cent and a disillusionment with the quality of care provided to patients, 27 per cent. Other reasons given included poor pay and benefits and difficulty in meeting the revalidation[6] requirements – often linked to no longer practising for the required number of hours. 

Figures released by the NMC earlier this year showed a small but significant increase in the numbers of EU nurses opting to leave the register. A survey of 247 EU nurses who left the NMC register over the past 12 months shows that their top three reasons were that they were leaving or had already left the UK, 58 per cent; Brexit had encouraged them to consider working outside the UK, 32 per cent and unhappiness with working conditions, 32 per cent.

The overall reduction in nursing numbers is most noticeable in England as the majority of registrants are based there; however, there is some evidence that the other UK countries are showing similar patterns.

The data released today covers the period between April 2012 and March 2017. Data for the first quarter of 2017 (April to June) will be released next month, although we expect this to show a continued decline in overall numbers on the register.


Notes to editor 

  1. For media enquiries, please contact NMC press office on 020 7681 5649 or email ​
  2. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is the independent professional regulator for nurses and midwives in the UK. We exist to protect the public. We do this by maintaining the register of qualified nurses and midwives and setting standards of education, training, conduct and performance. We make sure that nurses and midwives keep their skills and knowledge up to date through a regular revalidation process. If concerns are raised about the standards of a registered nurse or midwife, we have a duty to investigate and, where necessary, take action to protect the public.
  3. Some of the data in the report is available broken down by UK country. You can request a copy by emailing


[1] When using the term UK, EU or Overseas in relation to registrants, we are referring to the place where they received their initial registration.

[2] The NMC register 2012/13-2016/17, NMC, 3 July 2017.

[3] ‘Leaver’ refers to those registrants who have left our register or lapsed their registration. These figures do not include registrants who re-join within the month of lapsing their registration. For example, if 100 people leave the register and 60 of those re-join within that month the leaver total is 40.

[4] ‘Joiner’ refers to new registrants who have joined the NMC register for the first time.  It does not include registrants who have subsequently re-joined, returned to practise or applied for readmission to the register.  Further analysis of the trends in these groups and their impact on the register is being undertaken.

[5] Survey of former NMC registrants, NMC, 3 July 2017. This survey was sent to 17,375 former NMC registrants who had left our register between June 2016 and May 2017. Between 22 and 26 June 2017 we received 4,544 responses. Of these, 247 responses were from EU former registrants.

[6] Revalidation is the new renewal system introduced in April 2016 to ensure nurses and midwives can demonstrate that they remain effective and up to date in their professional practice. The number of nurses and midwives leaving the register during the first year of revalidation is in line with numbers leaving the register under the previous registration renewal system.