The number of nurses actively choosing to leave their profession has jumped just over a quarter since the coalition government came into power, it has emerged.

HSJ has obtained data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council which reveals a large rise in the numbers “opting not to practise” as nurses, with 5,422 leaving the profession in 2012-13 alone.

This is a 26 per cent increase since 2009-10 when 4,293 nurses voluntarily opted out of nursing.

However, the number of nurses quitting is slightly lower than it was in 2011-12, at the height of the government’s NHS reforms, when morale was also hit by pension changes and the bid to alter the Agenda for Change pay framework. In that year, 5,514 opted not to practise.

The loss of nurses in the last 12 months would more than fill the 3,700 posts NHS organisations are hoping to recruit to in 2013-14.

Meanwhile, the number of nurses retiring has soared by 128 per cent from 1,891 in 2009-10 to 4,309 in 2012-13.

The number of nurses leaving the register overall during the same period increased by 7.5 per cent from 21,949 in 2009-10 to 23,952 in 2012-13.

A crisis in the nursing workforce has emerged in recent weeks with about 40 trusts admitting to recruiting nurses from overseas and 41 trusts saying they will do this in the coming 12 months.

The post Francis report effect has also increased pressure on trusts to recruit more staff amid campaigns for new minimum staffing levels.

Jill Maben, director of the National Nursing Research unit, said: “It is entirely plausible that this was a result of increased demands on nurses who are having to work harder, faster longer for patients with higher needs and you can only do that for so long. Research shows there are very high levels of burnout in the NHS, second only to Greece.”

She said the NHS needed to look after the wellbeing of nurses ensuring they have proper breaks and rest times as well as opportunities to reflect and de-brief after difficult patient cases

A Department for Health spokesperson said: “We know nurses are working extremely hard in the face of increasing pressure. We want to support nurses as much as possible and have asked Health Education England to work with employers to improve recruitment and retention of staff.

“We are also investing in technology and training, and looking at cutting bureaucracy by a third to allow nurses and doctors to focus on patients and not paperwork.”