More than one in five nurses working in adult hospital care in England is from the European Union or further afield, show new figures that demonstrate the health service’s reliance on overseas workers.
The data published by NHS Digital shows there are at least 45,647 full-time equivalent overseas nurses and health visitors working in NHS hospitals and community services – representing just over 16% of the nursing workforce.
Of those, the majority – 85% – work in adult nursing care, with more than a fifth of nurses in the acute, general and elderly care sector coming from outside the UK.
The figures confirm that, while the majority – about 78% – of nurses working in NHS hospitals and community settings as of 30 June come from the UK, a significant proportion are from abroad.
According to the data, published this month, there were 19,121 nurses and health visitors from the EU, representing 6.7% of the workforce, with a handful from the European Economic Area.
A further 26,433 nurses came from other nations elsewhere in the world, making up 9.3% of the nursing workforce, while the nationality of around 5.5% of nurses was not known.
A breakdown according to specialty shows there are 38,445 foreign nurses working in adult care with nearly 16,000 – 8.9% – from the EU and nearly 22,500 – 12.5% – from other nations.
The figures show smaller numbers of foreign nurses in other sectors but still making up a significant proportion with more than 3,000 working in mental health – 8.4% of the mental health nursing workforce.
Nurses from outside the UK make up 9.4% of the children’s nursing workforce, 5% of the learning disability workforce and 4.4% of nurses working in community health.
However, other data released by NHS Digital this month suggests the NHS can no longer rely on a steady supply of nurses from the EU in the wake of the Brexit vote, with nearly 4,000 leaving the health service last year.
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In recent years, more nurses from the EU have come to work in the UK than from other countries worldwide in part due to restrictions on overseas immigration.
However, the data shows the number of EU nurses quitting the NHS in England outstripped the number joining for the first time in several years.
In the year from September 30 2016 to September 30 2017, 2,791 EU nurses joined the NHS – less than half the 5,957 nurses who came to work England the previous year. Meanwhile, more than 3,985 left, with more than three quarters of those aged 34 or under.
In the previous three years – including the year from September 2015 to September 2016, which encompasses the Brexit vote in June 2016 – the number of EU nurses joining the NHS was significantly greater than the numbers leaving.
In addition, the data shows a steady increase in the number of nurses from other parts of the world coming to work in England.
In 2012-13, 2,225 nurses from overseas countries started work in NHS hospitals and community settings, with more leaving than the number that joined.
Figures from 2016-17 show the number of joiners from the rest of the world was up to 2,996 with 1,943 leavers in that period.
Earlier this year, the government announced it would relax immigration rules to allow more nurses from outside the EU into the UK – meaning the upwards trend in overseas nursing recruitment is set to continue.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council’s decision to accept the new healthcare-based OET English language test – with early evidence of higher pass rates than the only other test – may also mean more overseas nurses are able to join the UK register.