More and more nurses applying to leave England for ‘better pay’

A rising number of nurses in England are planning to leave the country to work overseas, new figures suggest.

Data published by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) shows the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has been handling more and more requests from nurses considering working in another country.

“With the prospect of better pay and working conditions abroad, it should be little wonder why nurses are opting to use their skills elsewhere”

Pat Cullen

To practise nursing abroad, a nurse must ask the NMC for a certificate of current professional status (CCPS) to prove they have been on the regulator’s register without issue.

In 2018-19, 2,165 CCPS documents were issued by the NMC; this figure has risen year on year since then, reaching 10,282 in 2022-23.

Provisional figures from April-September 2023 (the first half of the 2023-24 financial year) indicated a further increase, with 8,950 in that incomplete year period alone.

While a CCPS is not necessarily an indicator that a nurse has moved overseas, the RCN said the rising number of people asking the NMC for one was evidence England could be losing registrants to better opportunities in other countries.

RCN general secretary and chief executive Professor Pat Cullen said “low pay and poor working conditions” were driving England registered nurses abroad.

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“With the prospect of better pay and working conditions abroad, it should be little wonder why nurses are opting to use their skills elsewhere,” said Professor Cullen.

“The NHS has been a pioneer in health and care but today struggles to compete on the world stage – and it is patients who feel the impact.”

The union reiterated calls for nurses to be given an above-inflation pay rise for 2024-25 and an “emergency” top-up payment of several thousand pounds to aid in retaining staff.

RCN said the largest leap in CCPS documents being between 2021-22 and 2022-23 was further evidence that low pay in relation to the rising cost of living had been pushing nurses to leave the country.

A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), quoted by RCN, showed that nurses in UK hospitals earned around 10% less than the full-time national average.

The UK was ranked bottom three out of 35 OECD member countries, most of whom are in Europe, for nurse pay.

Professor Cullen added: “Solutions to the nursing workforce crisis are often described as being overly complex.

“But the reality is that those working in health and care services want to be rewarded fairly and to deliver the level of care they were trained to.

“The government’s submission to the pay review body indicates that it hasn’t yet grasped the urgency of the workforce crisis in nursing. Every day that the penny doesn’t drop, is another when more nurses choose to leave.”

In its submission to the NHS Pay Review Body, the Department of Health and Social Care said a 2024-25 pay deal for NHS staff needed to be “fair but affordable” and take into account “stretched” government budgets.

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Meanwhile, the RCN also aired concerns that overseas-trained nurses, as well as those originally from the UK, have been among those leaving due to better opportunities abroad.

NMC’s figures showed that, between April 2018 and the end of September 2023, more than 14,756 UK-based nursing staff trained in India, 7,270 from the Philippines and 3,237 originally from Nigeria requested a CCPS.

RCN said that the “very low” numbers of applications to practise in those three countries suggested international nurses were being attracted to move for better pay, not just returning to their place of origin.

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