A recent analysis of NHS Digital data by the PA news agency has revealed that one in five jobs within the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is now occupied by non-UK nationals.
The study indicates a significant increase in reliance on international healthcare professionals, with a third of doctors and three in 10 nurses hailing from abroad – the highest proportion since records began.
According to the data, the overall percentage of foreign nationals in NHS England reached 20.4 percent in September 2023, a substantial rise from 13 percent in 2016 and 11.9 percent in 2009, the year when the data was first made available.
The most prevalent non-UK nationality in the NHS is Indian, constituting 10.1 percent of full-time equivalent nurses and health visitors, as well as 8 percent of doctors. The figures also reveal that 3.7 percent of doctors in the NHS are from Pakistan, 2.9 percent from Egypt, and 2 percent from Nigeria. Nurses and health visitors from the Philippines make up 7.7 percent, while Nigerians account for 2.5 percent, and Irish nationals for 1.1 percent.
What does this mean for the future workforce?
Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of NHS Employers, emphasised the importance of the international workforce, stating that the NHS would have struggled without them under the immense pressures it has faced.
However, Lucina Rolewicz, a researcher at The Nuffield Trust, cautioned that the current situation is not a sustainable, long-term solution.
Alex Baylis, Assistant Director of Policy at The King’s Fund, highlighted the existing shortage of staff, with 120,000 job vacancies across NHS England, including 42,000 in nursing and 9,000 in medicine. Baylis stressed the necessity of recruiting overseas to fill these vacancies in the coming years.
The NHS, grappling with staff retention issues, published a long-term workforce plan last year. The plan aims to reduce the number of foreign national doctors by half over the next 15 years and double the number of medical school places for local graduates.
What about consultants?
Interestingly, the analysis found that not all NHS jobs have seen an increase in non-UK nationals, with the number of consultants from abroad remaining consistent at around 22 percent. In total, the NHS now boasts staff from 214 different nationalities, with India, Portugal, and Ghana featuring in the top 10.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care acknowledged the valuable role of international recruitment but emphasised the need to strengthen the domestic workforce and decrease reliance on overseas staff.
The NHS long-term workforce plan, supported by £2.4bn, aims to double medical school places, almost double adult nurse training places, and increase GP training places by 50 percent by 2031 to ensure a sustainable future for the healthcare system.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.