The number of overseas nurses and midwives registering to work in the UK has grown by nearly 50% in the past year, latest figures have revealed.
It offers new evidence of the current scale of overseas nurse recruitment first revealed this time last year by a major Nursing Times investigation.
The data shows an increasing reliance by UK healthcare providers on “raiding” workers from abroad, said the Royal College of Nursing, which collected the figures.
In 2013-14, 6,228 nurses and midwives from outside the UK joined the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s register – up from 4,305 in 2012-13 and representing a 45% jump.
“No country should be relying on outside sources to provide vital healthcare”
The NMC figures, obtained by the RCN via Freedom of Information requests, also showed that overseas workers represented 22% of the 28,900 nurses and midwives joining the UK register in 2013-14.
It is an increase from 2012-13, when they represented 17% of the new workforce, and reflects a general upward trend since 2008-09, when overseas staff comprised only around 11% of new registrants.
However, the present figures are yet to reach the same levels seen around a decade ago, when around 45% of all new entrants to the UK register came from outside the UK.
The RCN said the figures showed were evidence UK healthcare employers were overly relying on outside sources to “desperately try to fill vacancies”.
It said that despite recent recruitment drives by trusts, cuts to nursing course places in previous years had caught up with the NHS, causing a shortage of home-grown nurses and midwives.
It warned the situation was likely to worsen before it improved, due to a lack of student training places and an ageing workforce.
“No country should be relying on outside sources to provide vital healthcare, but that is the situation the UK has found itself in,” said Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN.
“Overseas nurses have always provided a valuable service to the NHS, but cuts to student places, poor morale and short-term planning mean that now hospitals are forced to pay over the odds to agencies as they desperately try to fill vacancies,” he said.
Dr Carter added: “The NHS is one of the greatest health services in the world, training nurses to a world class standard. It shouldn’t have to raid the workforces of other countries just to keep providing care to patients.”
However, the data also showed a decrease in the number of UK-based nurses and midwives that have expressed an interest in leaving to work abroad – by paying for a certificate from the NMC, which healthcare employers abroad usually require for work.
In 2013-14, for the first time in eight years, this figure – around 4,300 – was lower than the number of nurses and midwives joining the workforce from abroad.
Survey results from September suggested staffing shortages had forced more than three quarters of hospital trusts in England to actively recruit nurses from overseas over the past four years.
Spain and Portugal were the most popular destinations for teams of NHS recruiters, the research by ITV News found – echoing previous findings from a major investigation by Nursing Times.
We found at least a third of hospital trusts in England had actively recruited from overseas in the 12 months to October 2013, as managers responded to warnings about safe staffing levels in the Francis report on care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.