NHS is again turning to non-UK workers to plug large gaps in the nursing workforce

18 May 2022

About 2 mins to read

Responding to the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s annual nursing register and HEE budget confirmation, James Buchan, Senior Visiting Fellow at the Health Foundation, said: 

‘Nurses trained outside the UK have long played a vital role in delivering NHS services. Today’s data from the NMC again shows that the NHS is turning to non-UK workers to plug large gaps in the nursing workforce. Almost half of new nurse registrants now come from nurses trained outside the UK and the number of new international nurse registrants is at its highest since 1990/91. 

‘Government has taken some steps to ramp up recruitment to reach the 50,000 extra nurses they have promised by 2024. With nursing vacancies across the NHS remaining stubbornly high and staff under extreme pressure, the drive to recruit new nurses is positive. But international recruitment is very much a short-term quick fix solution that may come at the expense of long-term workforce planning and domestic supply and risks nurses not being recruited in the right places with the right skills. Recruiting staff from Nigeria, Ghana and Zimbabwe, countries that are desperately in need of health care staff, also needs to be a significant consideration in any workforce recruitment drive.

‘With waiting lists at record levels and many nurses burnt out, it’s welcome news that Health Education England's budget for 2022/23 has now been confirmed, with a 10% increase on 2021/22, including an extra £160m for training to support backlog recovery. But ensuring that training is prioritised will not be easy given the major focus of the NHS is on service recovery.   

‘Nursing shortages across the NHS and social care are a huge risk to the NHS’s recovery post Covid. Progress in recovering the NHS will likely stall without having enough staff to deliver services, which is why a comprehensive long term – and fully funded – workforce strategy for the NHS and social care is urgently needed.’

Notes to editors

  • Data from UCAS and HEE show that notwithstanding strong increases in application numbers, acceptances to undergraduate nursing degree programmes in England increased only by 1% in 2021/22 relative to 2020/21 on the back of a record 25% annual increase in the previous year. 
  • Vacancy statistics from NHS Digital show that FTE staff vacancies in the NHS Hospital and Community Service (HCHS) in England stood at 110,192 in the quarter to December 2021, the highest number since the quarter to June 2019. 
  • Registered nurse FTE vacancies in the NHS HCHS in England stood at 39,652 in the quarter to December 2021, accounting for around 36% of overall FTE vacancies. 
  • Today’s NMC statistics also reveal that the number of nurses leaving the NMC’s permanent register increased by nearly 3,000 in 2021/22 relative to 2020/21, after having steadily declined between 2017/18 and 2020/21. 

Contact details

Liam Collins
Liam.Collins@health.org.uk
020 7360 7501

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