One in three nurses to reach retirement age within ten years

Press Releases

7 Jul 2016

New research reveals the scale of challenges facing the NHS nursing workforce, with one in three nurses due to retire in the next 10 years and a lack of 'homegrown' nurses to fill the imminent gap. The research shows that in recent years the NHS has increasingly sourced nurses from EU countries like Spain, Portugal and Ireland. EU nurses still only account for 4.5 per cent of the total nursing workforce with a further 8 per cent coming from outside the EU. The Institute for Employment Studies' (IES) report for the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) provides a clear picture of the nursing shortage faced by the NHS.

The MAC recently recommended that the Government grant up to 15,000 visas over the next three years to international (ie non-EU) nurses in order to ease the current shortage. The new IES report recommends that the Government must go further and ensure that the UK has a domestic supply of nurses that can meet the future healthcare demands placed on the NHS. The report concludes that this will require an adequate and sustained investment in workforce planning on the part of the Government.

The IES study highlights the key role of international and EU nurses in easing the pressures on the nursing workforce, as together they make up around 12 per cent of nurses in the UK. The researchers mapped NHS Trusts' recruitment of international nurses and found that reliance on this workforce is greatest in London and the South East. They also found that the composition of the overseas nursing workforce has shifted dramatically in recent years; EU nurses are now increasingly prevalent, reflecting a change in recruitment practices due to tighter immigration rules, fewer employment opportunities across the Eurozone and health sector employers seeking to bring in more migrant nurses in general to alleviate shortages

The report identifies three key causes of the current nursing shortage:

  • The Government have not funded enough student nursing places (despite demand for these places far outstripping supply).
  • The nursing workforce is ageing. The research reveals that there are not enough nurses entering the system to fill the gap or offset the loss of skills and experience that will take place when one third of nurses reach retirement age in the next ten years.
  • Since the Francis Report, safe staffing levels and increasing healthcare demands on NHS services have pushed up the demand for nurses, while at the same time Trusts have faced greater financial difficulties that have made the recruitment of nurses more challenging.

This research was commissioned in November 2015 with a focus on immigration. The implication on the supply of nurses will now have to be reconsidered following the outcome of the EU referendum. 

Dr Rachel Marangozov, lead author, commented:

'With one in three nurses due to retire in the next ten years, there is now an urgent question for the Government around who will replace them. With the uncertainty around Brexit, the recruitment pipeline from the EU is likely to be hit hard, and even the additional 15,000 visas for international nurses recommended by the MAC will not be sufficient to plug this gap in the workforce. The Government needs to act now to ensure that the UK has a domestic supply of nurses to fill these future posts. This will require adequate and sustained investment in workforce planning.'

Danny Mortimer, chief executive, NHS Employers, said:

'We welcome the IES report which was written before the outcome of the EU referendum. There are significant concerns that the shortage of nurses in the UK will not be helped by the uncertainty felt by EU staff working in health and social care. We look forward to similar reports regarding other sectors who access the shortage occupation list, in advance of a new post-Brexit approach to skilled migrants entering the UK. It is clear that the ongoing shortage of nurses is not a short-term issue. The report identifies very clearly the complex factors which have led to the shortage of nursing, not least the need for more effective service planning to drive our workforce plans.'


The report

The report will be available to download from the Migration Advisory Committee after 10.30am on Thursday, 7 July, 2016

Dr Rachel Marangozov

Dr Marangozov has over a decade of experience in researching labour market disadvantage among minority ethnic and migrant communities, both here in the UK and in other European Member States. She holds M. Phil and PhD degrees from the University of Cambridge and holds a number of advisory positions and affiliations, including Directorship of MigrationWork CIC and Fellow at the London School of Economics.

About the Institute for Employment Studies

The Institute for Employment Studies is the UK's leading independent centre for research and evidence-based consultancy in employment, labour market and human resource policy and practice. It is apolitical and not-for-profit, its activities being funded through research and consultancy commissions, and from its corporate membership programme. The Institute aims to improve employment policy in the UK and internationally by carrying out authoritative research of practical relevance to policy makers and those responsible for implementing policy programmes and initiatives.

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