New analysis of NHS Digital data conducted by the PA news agency reveals a notable increase in the proportion of non-UK nationals employed in NHS positions.

Approximately one in five NHS jobs are now filled by individuals from outside the UK, marking a significant shift in the healthcare workforce.

The analysis highlights that foreign nationals constitute 20.4% of the workforce in NHS England as of September 2023. This figure reflects a substantial rise from 13% in 2016 and 11.9% in 2009, the first year for which data was made available. Notably, a third of doctors and three in 10 nurses working in the health service have come from abroad, representing the highest proportion on record.

Diversity in Nationalities

Indian nationals emerge as the most common non-UK nationality within the NHS, comprising 10.1% of full-time equivalent nurses and health visitors, and 8% of doctors. The data also reveals significant contributions from individuals of Pakistani (3.7%), Egyptian (2.9%), and Nigerian (2%) nationalities among the doctor workforce. Nurses and health visitors also include Filipino employees (7.7%), Nigerians (2.5%), and Irish (1.1%).

NHS Employers’ Chief Executive, Danny Mortimer, acknowledges the vital role played by the international workforce, stating that the NHS has become increasingly reliant on their talent. Mortimer underscores that without the contributions of non-UK nationals, the NHS could have struggled to withstand the pressures it faced.

However, Lucina Rolewicz, a researcher at The Nuffield Trust, warns that this reliance on overseas staff is not a sustainable, long-term solution. This caution comes amidst concerns about the future stability of the healthcare workforce.

Challenges in Workforce Management

Alex Baylis, Assistant Director of Policy at health charity The King’s Fund, highlights the existing challenges in workforce management, pointing out that NHS England currently has 120,000 vacant positions, including 42,000 in nursing and 9,000 in medicine. Baylis stresses the importance of recruiting from overseas to fill these vacancies, particularly since professional training requires several years.

In response to the ongoing workforce challenges, the NHS released a long-term workforce plan last year. The plan aims to address issues related to retention and attraction of talent, pledging to halve the number of foreign national doctors over the next 15 years while doubling medical school places for domestic graduates.

While there is a notable increase in non-UK nationals in various NHS roles, the number of consultants from abroad has remained relatively consistent at around 22%. This suggests that certain positions within the healthcare sector have not experienced a significant shift in their demographic composition.