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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.