Hospitals ‘depend on staff from abroad’ as one in four workers are born outside the UK

A drop in the number of migrant workers could have catastrophic consequences for health and social care services

Matt Bodell
4 December 2019
nurse preparing IV medications

A fifth of all health and social care staff were born outside the UK.

New figures from the Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank, reveal that almost a quarter of all staff working in hospitals and a fifth of all health and social care staff were born outside the UK.


People born abroad make up 19% (818,000) of all health and social care workers, with migrants making a particularly vital contribution to the hospital sector, with this rising to 23% [324,000].

The data also reveals that around half of all new health and social care workers in the last decade were from abroad.

In the analysis, researchers warn that if the annual increase in health and care staff from the EU were to fall by just half this could have catastrophic consequences for health and social care services.

Tens of thousands of vacancies.

Health and social care services are already struggling with tens of thousands of vacancies and actually require higher migration in the coming years.


The Nuffield Trust highlights that the NHS has a history of failing to train and hire enough staff from the UK, continuing instead to rely on staff born abroad to provide care.

Mark Dayan, Policy Analyst at the Nuffield Trust said:  “This analysis reveals just how international the NHS truly is, and that without migration staffing shortages would be almost unimaginable.

“The Conservatives and Labour have made encouraging assurances to enable some foreign NHS staff to arrive after we leave the EU. But these pledges will fall flat if not matched with promises to recruit social care staff from abroad and expanded to other vital NHS staff beyond hospital nurses and doctors.

“With the NHS continuing to be a top priority for voters, restricting migration could backfire spectacularly given we already have dire shortages and more staff are desperately needed”.


An invaluable part of the workforce.

Dame Donna Kinnair, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said: “Nursing colleagues from overseas have long been an invaluable part of the health and social care workforce in the UK.

“But Nuffield’s new analysis shows the extent to which our health and social care services now depend on staff from abroad, with fully half the increase in workforce numbers over the last 10 years coming from staff from overseas.

“Continuing over-reliance on staff from abroad in this way is both unsustainable and unethical in the long term.

“Instead we need urgent measures to increase the size of our domestic workforce. The policy that would make the biggest difference would be to restore financial help, both tuition fees and maintenance grants, for nursing students in England – we are calling for at least £1 billion of funding to be reinvested in nurse higher education in order to increase the supply of tomorrow’s nurses”.

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