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Almost half of the nursing professionals who returned to practice to support the UK coronavirus response would consider staying on permanently, a survey reveals.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council has today published the findings of a snapshot analysis of its Covid-19 temporary register as of 2 July 2020.
“It’s clear we still have a long road ahead of us to sustain the numbers of nursing and midwifery professionals we need”
With thousands of nurse vacancies across the UK, emergency measures were put in place at the start of the pandemic to expand the workforce quickly to meet the expected surge in demand.
The temporary register was launched in March 2020 to allow former registrants and overseas-trained staff in the process of applying for UK registration, to join the coronavirus frontline.
Meanwhile, student nurses were also invited to take on paid clinical placements to help shore up the workforce.
Out of more 14,240 people on the temporary register at the time of the analysis, 66% had left the NMC permanent register in the last three years, 16% had left in the last three to five years and 18% were internationally trained.
As part of the review the NMC surveyed those on the temporary register and received a response from 9,433 people.
Of the returning professionals who responded, 3,752 (49%) said it was either “possible” or “highly likely” that they would re-join the register permanently after the pandemic.
The regulator described this finding as one of a “few key opportunities” identified in the analysis as it looked to “continue to support the growth of the nursing and midwifery workforce, as we move towards winter”.
For the overseas-trained staff, 1,827 (97%) said they were “highly likely” to want to join, although the NMC said this was unsurprising because they were already in the process of applying.
However, the analysis also showed the majority of the returning professionals who had signed up to the temporary register were not yet being utilised, with the demand for additional staff not as great as first anticipated during the peak of the pandemic.
Of the professionals who left the permanent register in the last three years, just under 14% had started practising by the time they responded to the survey.
Among those who had left the permanent register between four and five years ago, less than 6% had started practising.
“The uncomfortable truth is that these people were needed because our health and care system entered this pandemic with tens of thousands of nursing vacancies”
Conversely almost all overseas staff (92%) had started practising, but the NMC said it was likely that many were already working in a “pre-registration” capacity before joining the temporary register.
Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive and registrar of the NMC, said: “The response of the health and social care system to Covid-19 was phenomenal and nursing and midwifery professionals played such an important part which meant the need for our temporary registrants was not as great as originally anticipated.
“However, it’s clear we still have a long road ahead of us to sustain the numbers of nursing and midwifery professionals we need over the coming months so people can experience good, quality care as we cautiously recover from the crisis phase of the pandemic.”
The temporary register remains open and Ms Sutcliffe said the NMC would work with its partners in the four UK countries to allow staff on it to “continue to contribute if they want to”.
Meanwhile, Susan Masters, director of nursing, policy and public affairs at the Royal College of Nursing, said the best way to convince those who stepped up in the pandemic to stay was for the government to give nurses a “meaningful pay rise”.
“The students and recently retired nurses who re-joined the register should be immensely proud of the role they played in this pandemic,” she said.
“However, the uncomfortable truth is that these people were needed because our health and care system entered this pandemic with tens of thousands of nursing vacancies across the UK.”
The analysis also provided further information about the demographics of those on the temporary register.
The overseas staff were much younger on the whole than the returning registrants with just 1% over the age of 50.
Among the returning professionals who left the permanent register in the last three years, 33% were aged 50-59 and 47.5% were over 60.
For those who left between three to five years ago, 28% were 50-59 and 46% were over 60.
In terms of ethnicity, most people returning to practice identified as white British (84% for those who left in the last three years and 74% in the other group).
In the overseas group, over a third of people (34%) were of Asian or Indian ethnicity and 11% were Black.
In addition, there were more people in the returning to practice groups who had declared a disability, when compared with the overseas cohort.