In England, the NHS’s reliance on international staff has reached a new peak, with one in five workers now originating from outside the UK. This diverse workforce, representing 214 nations worldwide, includes professionals from India, Portugal, Ghana, and even smaller states like Tonga, Liechtenstein, and the Solomon Islands.
According to recent analysis of NHS Digital data, as of September 2023, a substantial 20.4% of the total 1,282,623 full-time equivalent (FTE) hospital and community health service staff in England were non-UK nationals. This marks a notable increase from 13% in 2016 and 11.9% in 2009, as reported by The Guardian.
Danny Mortimer, CEO of NHS Employers, highlights the vital role played by this international workforce in sustaining the NHS amid growing pressures. He emphasizes the need for a dual approach focusing on retaining existing talent and attracting new recruits, alongside the expansion of domestic training programs outlined in the NHS England long-term workforce plan.
Further examination of the data reveals a significant presence of non-UK nationals in key healthcare roles, particularly among nurses and doctors. Approximately 30% of nurses and 36.3% of doctors in England come from abroad.
Among nurses, Indian nationals comprise the largest proportion, accounting for 10.1% of all FTEs, followed by professionals from the Philippines, Nigeria, and Ireland. Similarly, Indian nationals are the most common among doctors, representing 8% of all medical staff, followed by individuals from Pakistan, Egypt, and Nigeria.
Moreover, there has been a noticeable increase in the percentage of midwives and medical support staff from outside the UK, indicating a growing reliance on overseas recruitment to address staffing shortages.
Experts such as Lucina Rolewicz from the Nuffield Trust and Alex Baylis from the King’s Fund stress the NHS’s dependence on international recruitment and underscore the importance of supporting these workers through fair treatment, training opportunities, and career advancement prospects.
Baylis emphasizes, “Staff from overseas are – and always have been – absolutely essential to the NHS and must be recognized and valued as such.”
While acknowledging the invaluable contribution of international staff, the Department of Health and Social Care aims to reduce reliance on overseas recruitment by increasing domestic training placements for healthcare professionals as part of the NHS long-term workforce plan. The strategy aims to decrease the international workforce component from nearly a quarter to approximately 10% over the next 15 years.