Almost half of NMC’s new registrants were trained overseas

Data sparks concern about reliance on quick-fix international nurse recruitment and ethical implications of recruiting from countries short of healthcare staff

Data sparks concern about reliance on quick-fix international nurse recruitment and ethical implications of recruiting from countries short of healthcare staff

Photo of a woman wearing a face covering at an airport: quick-fix recruitment of overseas nurses to the UK has raised concerns
Picture: iStock

Almost half of nurses joining the UK register in the last year were from overseas, with two of the top five countries for international recruits being ‘red list’ countries.

NMC warns against reliance on international staff as half of new recruits come from overseas

Annual register data published by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) today shows a significant increase in international nurses, with 23,408 of the 48,436 first-time registrants having trained overseas.

Recruitment of new international registrants is the highest since 1991 according to the Health Foundation, and the number of people from outside the EU/EEA on the permanent register is up by 23.1% since last year.

More than two thirds of those joiners were from India or the Philippines, with the next three highest providers being Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Ghana.

NMC chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe warned the NHS may be becoming too reliant on international recruitment to grow the register and fill the 39,652 nursing vacancies across England. ‘These professionals make a welcome and vital contribution to our nation’s health and well-being. But we can’t take them for granted,’ she said.

Ethical implications of employing nurses from red list countries

Nigeria and Ghana are on the World Health Organization’s safeguarding list, meaning governments should not actively recruit from those countries due to health professional shortages for their own populations.

Asked whether it is ethical to employ health professionals from safeguarded health services, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said they did not actively recruit from these countries, but would be engaging with NHS Employers to investigate any reports that recruitment agencies were actively trying to recruit from red list countries.

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid added he is ‘determined to continue growing the workforce to help us tackle the COVID backlog and reduce waiting lists.’

Overseas registrations from April 2021 to March 2022 by location of training

  • India: 9,769
  • Philippines: 5,763
  • Nigeria (red list): 3,010
  • Zimbabwe: 913
  • Ghana (red list): 843

Surge in international recruitment is an unsustainable quick fix, warns nursing workforce expert

Meanwhile senior visiting fellow at the Health Foundation James Buchan warned that the huge surge in international recruitment was a quick fix. ‘Today’s data from the NMC again shows that the NHS is turning to non-UK workers to plug large gaps in the nursing workforce,’ he said.

He added that while ‘the drive to recruit new nurses is positive, international recruitment is a short-term quick-fix solution that may come at the expense of long-term workforce planning and domestic supply, and risks nurses not being recruited in the right places with the right skills’.

‘Recruiting staff from Nigeria, Ghana and Zimbabwe, countries that are desperately in need of healthcare staff also needs to be a significant consideration in any workforce recruitment drive,’ Professor Buchan said.

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