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UK losing nurses to three higher paying countries, data suggests

More evidence has been published which suggests the number of nurses leaving the UK for better paying jobs abroad is rising.

The Health Foundation published a new report on Monday (25 March) from its Research and Economic Analysis for the Long term (REAL) Centre showing that in the 2022-23 financial year, more than 12,400 UK-registered nurses applied for a Certificate of Current Professional Status (CCPS).

“We can ill afford nurses leaving the profession at such high rates”

Elaine Kelly

This document, granted by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), acts as proof of registration for a nurse applying for a job outside of the UK.

Of these applications, more than four in five were applications where the nurse was expressing an interest to work in Australia, New Zealand or the US.

The Health Foundation said applications for the US increased 10 fold between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 financial years, and overall CCPS applications more than doubled over that period.

The US, along with New Zealand and Australia, has higher average wages for nurses than the UK, once figures are adjusted for purchasing power, the Health Foundation added, using data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

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Seven out of 10 of the applications in 2022-23 were from nurses who first qualified outside of the UK and European Union. Of these, four out of five were trained in India and the Philippines, two countries which supply a large number of nurses each year to the NHS.

The Health Foundation said this suggested that an increasing number of international nurses were seeing the UK as a “stepping stone” to work elsewhere.

It said policymakers must “do more” to understand why nurses may be leaving the country, suggesting that pay, working conditions, staffing shortages and experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic may be pushing them out.

The report added: “We need more effective retention of nurses irrespective of their country of training, but with a targeted focus on the tens of thousands of [overseas]-trained nurses who are so vital to the NHS’ ability to deliver services.

“This means developing a much better understanding of why nurses are moving internationally, and how we can encourage them to stay.”

The Health Foundation acknowledged that it was “too early” to tell if the current patterns would become a sustained trend.

Elaine Kelly, REAL Centre assistant director, said the NHS must become a “more attractive place” for nurses to work.

“There is a global shortage of nurses, and the UK operates in an international market,” said Ms Kelly.

“In recent years, the NHS has relied heavily on international nurses to plug workforce gaps, yet our research shows that nurses trained overseas are the largest group applying for professional certificates to enable them to practise abroad.”

Data from the Health Foundation's REAL centre which suggests internationally-trained nurses are more likely to seek employment elsewhere in the world

Data from the Health Foundation’s REAL centre

The Health Foundation’s findings appear to corroborate a report published by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) earlier this month.

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RCN showed that CCPS application numbers for England had shot up in recent years and linked the rise to pay and working conditions.

Ms Kelly added: “The current environment for nursing in the UK is very challenging – nurses have experienced a decade of real terms decline in pay, while the NHS Staff Survey shows that less than half feel their organisation values their work.

“Recently nurses have made their dissatisfaction with pay and conditions known by taking industrial action.

“Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that when other opportunities arise, many nurses are keen to explore them.

“Even if we are successful in meeting the ambitious targets to train more nurses in the UK, we can ill afford nurses leaving the profession at such high rates, whether that be for nursing jobs abroad or other opportunities within the UK.”

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