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Rise and fall of overseas nurses working in English NHS


There have been large reductions in the number of overseas nurses coming to work in the English NHS from countries outside of Europe over the last seven or eight years, reveal latest statistics.

In contrast, there have been massive increases in the number of nurses coming from Spain, Portugal and Italy, as trusts targeted such countries in the years prior to the European Union referendum.

“There are now substantially fewer nurses from some nationalities than in 2009”


A report, published today by the House of Commons Library using NHS Digital data, shows that 84% of nurses and health visitors working in hospital and community health services were British, as of December last year.

Of the remainder, 7% (22,081) of nurses had an EU nationality other than British, with most either Irish, Spanish or Portuguese.

A further 6% (16,727) of nurses were Asian in nationality, with the vast majority either Philippine or Indian.

Smaller numbers also came from Africa and the West Indies. There are 7,004 nurses with an African nationality and 469 from Jamaica.

Nationality of nurses summary, December 2016 
 British 249,443
 Philippine 8,892
 Indian 6,185
 Spanish 4,657
 Irish 4,630
 Portuguese  3,621
 Italian 2,780
 Zimbabwean 2,421
 Romanian 1,626
 Polish  1,326
 Nigerian 1,225
 Ghanaian 824

The report highlighted that there were “now substantially fewer nurses from some nationalities” working in the NHS in England than there were in 2009.

For example, there has been a reduction of over 1,400 Zimbabwean nurses – 36% of the total – and there have also been large reductions of nurses of Philippine, Indian and Nigerian nationality.

In addition, there were estimated to be 51% fewer South African nurses, 46% fewer Malaysian nurses and 37% fewer Australian nurses in December 2016 than there were in 2009.

In contrast, for several European nationalities, there have been very large increases since 2009.

The number of Portuguese nurses has risen from 210 to 3,621, the number of Italian nurses from 192 to 2,780, and the number of Spanish nurses from 406 to 4,657.

Meanwhile, the data shows how overseas nurses are distributed across England by region, with most based in London and the South East.

The extremes being in the North East, where British nurses make up 96% of the total, and in North West London, where this figure is only 66%.

Put another way, the proportion of nurses from EU countries other than the UK varies from 1% in the North East to 15% in South London. One-third of nurses from other EU countries work in London.

The report comes as political debate rages over the future security of EU nationals currently working in the NHS, with opposition parties and unions calling for urgent action from the government.

Meanwhile, a leaked report has suggested the NHS could be hit by a post-Brexit shortage of more than 40,000 nurses by 2026, according to workforce modelling by the Department of Health.

The Labour Party said the new figures highlighted the importance of EU nationals to the NHS, as it sought to ramp up pressure on the government to guarantee EU citizens’ status after Brexit.

Its health spokesman John Ashworth said: “EU nationals in our health service deserve to have their futures safeguarded.”



Readers' comments (3)

  • Don't worry Britain, soon there will be hardly any foreign nurses left in the NHS! But hey, that's what you guys voted for innit? You should be rejoicing and celebrating?

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  • Why go where you are not wanted? You obviously don't want overseas nurses in NHS so why should we stay?

    The fact is the NHS was built on the backs of overseas nurses who were invited here. We have obviously outstayed our welcome and are no longer wanted, although you still need us. There is a very small window of opportunity to reverse the slow leakage of oversea nurse whether EU or non-EU before it's too late.

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  • When all is said and done it is all about marketing as proven by the case of increases Spanish and Portuguese nurses.
    Unlikely to get 1st world nurses i.e Australia,Canada,USA.
    To really solve the problem offer subsided accomodation.
    The reality is that other countries are not really that much better off.

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