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Data and charts

International recruitment in the NHS

The NHS is more reliant than ever on its international workforce, but even with these staff vacancies remain high. 

The NHS would not be able to function without its international workforce, who account for nearly 1 in every 5 people who work in the health service. Increased ethical international recruitment will be vital to addressing the current NHS workforce crisis. The UK’s current immigration policy allows health and social care staff to apply for a visa to work in the UK for up to five years. 

International staff in the NHS

International staff make up 19 per cent of the NHS workforce and the service would struggle to function without them. Even with these international staff, there are still around 121,000 vacancies across the NHS.

A pie chart showing the that nearly 1 in 5 staff working in the NHS have a non-British nationality

International staff by region

Some regions have a higher proportion of international staff than others. For example, in London international staff make up 30 per cent of the workforce compared to just 11 per cent in the north east and Yorkshire. 

A bar graph showing that in London international staff make up 30% of the workforce compared to just 11% in the north east and Yorkshire.

International staff over time

The NHS has a long history of recruiting international staff to supplement its ‘home-grown’ workforce. In recent years, the overall number and proportion of international staff has grown due to an increase in staff from non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries. However, the proportion from EEA nations has remained static.

A line graph showing that the proportion of international staff in the NHS has been increasing

International staff by nationality

The international workforce in the NHS is very diverse. While recruitment campaigns in specific countries have seen large numbers of staff from particular nations joining the NHS workforce (for example, there are more than 10,000 NHS employees from the following countries: Ireland, India, Nigeria, the Philippines and Poland), the data from June 2023 shows that more than 200 nationalities are represented.

A world map showing NHS staff come from all over the world

International staff by job role

Some job roles in the NHS are more reliant than others on international staff. International staff make up more than a third of the medical workforce, compared to just over 5 per cent of managers.

A bar graph showing which job roles are more dependent on international recruitment in the NHS


Even with the sizeable contribution from the international workforce, there are still significant vacancies across the NHS. The supply of ‘home-grown’ workers is simply not sufficient to meet future demand, and increased ethical international recruitment will be essential to addressing the current NHS workforce crisis. However, it is not a standalone solution. In the long term, greater investment in training and staff development will be needed, alongside improved retention rates, to provide the number of staff the NHS needs. 


NHS staffing shortages

Bill Morgan explores what can get in the way of ministers taking meaningful, long-term action to address NHS workforce shortages in this report co-commissioned with Engage Britain.

Read the report