Home » News/Views » NHS reliance on overseas nurse recruitment unsustainable

NHS reliance on overseas nurse recruitment unsustainable

20 December 2023

Striking nurses picketing University College Hospital, London, January 2023. Photo: Workers

Ninety-three per cent of the 51,245 nurses who have joined the NHS in the last four years have been recruited from overseas. This startling fact was revealed by NHS England’s chief nurse at their board meeting on 7 December. 

Earlier in the same week ministers were boasting that they had met their 2019 election promise on nurse recruitment six months early! When the target was set there was an acknowledgment that international recruitment might make up about a quarter of the total, but no one imagined that it would be over 90 per cent. 

The Nursing and Midwifery Council have also reported that a growing number of the international nurses are from “red list” countries, where active recruitment is prohibited by the UK government’s code of practice. This includes significant rises in joiners from Ghana and Zambia and a steadily high number of joiners from Nigeria.

Red list

However, since the International Council of Nurses is reporting nurse shortages across the globe, any international recruitment, red list or not, is having an adverse impact on another country’s health system.

This high level of dependence on overseas recruitment shows that current measures to retain UK trained nurses are simply not working.

When the long-term workforce strategy was published in June 2023 it clearly stated that overseas recruitment was not a sustainable option for the NHS. As Sara Gorton, Head of Health at Unison, said at the time: “At long last there is a plan. Now everyone committed to making the NHS thrive again can focus on the challenge of filling the huge gaps in the workforce.”

Her suggestion for step one was that “Action on retention is key…pay must lie at the heart of any solution.” Overseas recruitment is now, and always will be, the damaging stop gap, not the solution. 

• An edited version of this article appears in Workers January/February 2024 edition.