Statistics reveal that 20% of NHS employees in England are citizens from outside of the UK.

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20% of NHS employees in England are not from the UK, as shown by statistics highlighting the significant contribution of foreign workers in sustaining the healthcare system.

Healthcare workers from 214 countries – from India, Portugal and Ghana to tiny nations such as Tonga, Liechtenstein and Solomon Islands – are employed in the NHS. And the proportion of roles filled by non-UK nationals has risen to a record high, according to analysis of NHS Digital figures.

Out of the 1,282,623 total staff working in hospitals and community health services in England in September 2023, 20.4% were not from the UK. This percentage has increased from 13% in September 2016 and 11.9% in September 2009, the starting point of this data collection.

According to Danny Mortimer, the CEO of NHS Employers, the study demonstrates the significant dependence of the NHS on its skilled international staff. He also stated that without these employees, the health service would have likely struggled to handle the demands placed upon it.

He stated that NHS teams are very grateful for the support and contribution of their colleagues from overseas. However, we cannot become complacent as we cannot rely on international recruitment to fill NHS vacancies indefinitely.

“Retention is just as crucial as recruitment in the NHS, and it will play a critical role in the short term to alleviate pressures and ensure a strong foundation for our future recruitment efforts. Additionally, increasing the number of trained staff is a priority, so it is essential to maintain the ongoing expansion of training and education outlined in the NHS England long-term workforce plan.”

An analysis conducted by the PA Media news agency found that 30% of nurses and 36.3% of doctors in the UK are non-UK nationals, with a significant rise in recent years.

The nationality with the highest representation among nurses and health visitors in the UK is Indian, making up 10.1% of all full-time equivalents. Following closely behind are Filipino (7.7%), Nigerian (2.5%), and Irish (1.1%).

Indian was again the most common non-UK nationality among doctors, accounting for 8% of all medics, followed by Pakistani (3.7%), Egyptian (2.9%) and Nigerian (2.0%).

The percentage of non-UK nationals working as midwives has increased from 7.1% in 2020 to 9% in 2023. This is similar to the levels seen in 2009, when it was also at 9.1%. The proportion of non-UK nationals among medical support staff has also risen from 7.2% in 2009 to 10.3% in 2016 and 17.6% in 2023.

According to Lucina Rolewicz, a researcher from the Nuffield Trust, the NHS has grown more dependent on hiring from overseas to address staffing shortages. She also noted that international nurses have played a crucial role in helping the government fulfill its promise to increase the number of NHS nurses in England by 50,000 in 2019.

She stated that this was not a viable, lasting resolution. “The National Health Service continues to face competition from other healthcare systems to recruit staff from abroad, and in certain instances, our work environment, salary, and opportunities for advancement may appear less desirable compared to other nations,” she explained.

Alex Baylis, an assistant director of policy at the King’s Fund, emphasized the importance of recognizing and valuing overseas staff as essential to the NHS. It is crucial for the NHS to provide adequate support for these staff members as they adapt to our system, have access to continuous training and opportunities for career advancement, and are treated fairly without discrimination.

The Department of Health and Social Care recognized the important contribution that international employees make in providing high-quality healthcare through the NHS. However, they emphasized the need to decrease dependence on foreign workers.

According to a spokesperson, the long-term workforce plan for the NHS aims to increase the number of medical school and adult nurse training places by two-fold, while also raising the number of GP training places by 50% by 2031. This will result in a decrease in the reliance on international recruitment from nearly a quarter of the workforce currently to approximately 10% in 15 years.


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