Reliance on international nurse recruitment during a workforce crisis

Today's cover story in The Times expressed concern at the increasing reliance in the UK on overseas nurses to staff the NHS. The story featured a short piece of exclusive analysis by Dr Billy Palmer drawing on NMC data looking at trends in nurses and midwives joining the UK register from overseas since 2019.

In the news

Published: 19/05/2023

Currently, around a fifth (19%) of the UK’s nursing, midwifery and nursing associate workforce is accounted for by those that trained overseas.

However, in the year to September 2022, half (50%) of joiners to the UK register trained outside the UK. This compares to fewer than one in 5 (19%) in the corresponding period four years prior. In fact, across the UK register, in the three years since September 2019 there has been an increase of 22,226 UK-trained nurses, midwives and nursing associates. But this is only half the increase seen in non-UK trained staff, which rose by 43,736 despite falls in the number from the EU (3,341) over this period.

As such, two-thirds of the increase in registered nurses is accounted for by overseas staff.

Nuffield Trust senior fellow Billy Palmer said:

Turning off the taps to international recruitment is just not feasible nor desirable for the NHS. Our health services rely on overseas nurses, who on average stay longer with the NHS than their counterparts trained in the UK. 

“But we know international recruitment can’t be the answer to ensuring we have the staff we need to keep services going. Even now, the NHS is competing with other health systems for overseas staff and in some cases, our working conditions, pay and career prospects are looking unfavourable to other countries.

“Employing more homegrown NHS staff is rarely a quick process, but there are immediate steps the government should focus on including making public services a more attractive prospect for graduates and pushing to reduce the record numbers of staff choosing the leave the NHS.”   

Read the  Times story [£] 

Please note that since publishing the below chart, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has released an update with March 2023 data on joiners to the UK nursing register. The latest data shows that there are more than 164,000 overseas-trained nurses on the UK register, and that overseas staff now account for 69% of the net growth since September 2019. Find out more what the record numbers joining the UK register mean for NHS workforce planning here.

More on overseas nurse recruitment

The Nuffield Trust has carried out extensive work looking at overseas recruitment to understand whether ongoing reliance on it is sustainable amid a nurse recruitment shortage both in this country and across the world. Read more about this work below.

  • 04/10/2021
  • Dr Billy Palmer | Claudia Leone | John Appleby
  • 19/05/2022
  • Dr Billy Palmer