Health & Lifestyle

Number of nurses and midwives working in NHS hits all-time high of 800,000 amid huge spike in overseas-trained medics from ‘red list’ nations

The number of nurses registered to work in the UK has hit a record high, the nursing regulator has said, at it warned against unethical recruitment from countries with their own shortages.

Some 808,488 nurses, midwives and nursing associates are now registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council – a rise of 37,091 in a year.

This includes 748,528 nurses, 42,974 midwives and 10,560 nursing associates – all more than ever before.

But it comes amid a rise in the number of people joining the register from so-called ‘red list’ countries, such as Nigeria and Ghana.

Some 808,488 nurses, midwives and nursing associates are now registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council – a rise of 37,091 in a year

Some 808,488 nurses, midwives and nursing associates are now registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council – a rise of 37,091 in a year

These nations have their own workforce problems and guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care tells the NHS not to actively recruit from them.

Figures from the NMC show that 3,071 people joined the nursing register from red list countries in the six months to September 30.

Overall there were 24,905 professionals from red list countries on the register on September 30 2023.

The new NMC figures also show a growing number of UK joiners, following a recent expansion of nursing training places.

Some 30,103 people joined the nursing register in the six months to September 30, including 15,067 from the UK.

Meanwhile the proportion of nurses from black and minority ethnic backgrounds is now 29.1 per cent.

Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive and registrar at the NMC, said: ‘Strong recruitment and steady retention have taken our register of nurses, midwives and nursing associates to another record high.

There are concerns of a rise in the number of people joining the register from ‘red list’ countries, where active NHS recruitment is banned. This graph shows the growth in nurses and midwives joining the NMC register based on where they originally trained. While recruitment of UK-trained, as well as Indian and Filipino professionals has grown, numbers from supposedly red list countries have exploded over the past five years, going from just a handful to thousands

There are concerns of a rise in the number of people joining the register from ‘red list’ countries, where active NHS recruitment is banned. This graph shows the growth in nurses and midwives joining the NMC register based on where they originally trained. While recruitment of UK-trained, as well as Indian and Filipino professionals has grown, numbers from supposedly red list countries have exploded over the past five years, going from just a handful to thousands 

‘This is very encouraging given the well-publicised pressure on health and care services at a time of rising demand for care.

‘Our register is now showing 50-50 recruitment between UK and internationally educated nursing and midwifery professionals.

‘All these professionals make a vital and welcome contribution to people’s health and well-being.

‘However, it’s important that employers continue to be mindful of the Government’s ethical recruitment code, since we’re seeing many joiners from ‘red list’ countries.

‘People from across the world want to come and work in the UK.

‘However, employers must not undermine health systems in countries with the most pressing workforce challenges through active recruitment.’

Professor Nicola Ranger, chief nurse at the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘The headline findings of this report don’t reflect what nurses are seeing on the NHS frontline.

‘Since 2019, the NHS waiting list has grown four times faster than the nurse workforce, meaning there aren’t enough staff to provide the outstanding care patients deserve.

‘The Government’s over-reliance on unethical international recruitment from red-list countries has become the norm and cannot continue. It’s a false economy.

The NMC data also shows how new joiners to the register are now 50/50 split between British trained professionals and those from other countries. In total 30,103 people joined the nursing register in the six months to September 30, including 15,067 from the UK, just 31 more than from international sources

The NMC data also shows how new joiners to the register are now 50/50 split between British trained professionals and those from other countries. In total 30,103 people joined the nursing register in the six months to September 30, including 15,067 from the UK, just 31 more than from international sources

Despite the rise of international recruits as whole British trained professionals still account for the vast majority of those on the NMC register

Despite the rise of international recruits as whole British trained professionals still account for the vast majority of those on the NMC register 

‘The Government should invest in nursing staff in the UK, funding nurse education and fair pay – not destabilising other health care systems.’

It comes after nurses said they were ‘appalled’ by the deal struck between the Government and consultants in England, which will see some get a pay rise of around 19 per cent.

The RCN did not agree to the pay deal which saw them get a 5 per cent pay rise 2023/24 and a cash sum for last year, but union members decided not to continue with strikes after it was imposed in the summer.

However, the RCN reacted angrily over the pay award offered to the nation’s top doctors, suggesting the news would make nursing strikes ‘more likely in the future’.

It has called on the Government to reopen talks about nursing pay.

Dr Billy Palmer, senior fellow at the Nuffield Trust, a health think tank, said: ‘Healthcare services are not benefiting equally from the growth in registered nurses with, for example, numbers of registered learning disability nurses continuing to fall.

‘Crucially, while there has been an increase in UK-trained nurses joining the register, many will not join the NHS.

‘We have stressed the need to plug the leaks in the pipeline for homegrown clinicians, and policymakers need to gain a better understanding of why so many are taking jobs outside of the NHS, including in the private sector.

‘We are relying on overseas nurses more and more to fill the gaps where we struggle to attract domestic staff.’

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said: ‘While overseas healthcare workers in the UK are invaluable, the rise in joiners from ‘red list’ countries is concerning.

‘International recruitment must be done ethically, in line with the Department of Health and Social Care’s Code of Practice.

‘The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan aims to drive domestic training alongside international recruitment.

‘For this to be realised, the plan must be adequately funded by the government.’

Sean O’ Sullivan, head of health policy at the Royal College of Midwives, said there is a shortfall of around 2,500 midwives in the NHS in England, adding: ‘While it’s positive to see the number of people trained and registered as midwives is rising, this is not the same as the number of midwives working in the NHS.’

Ruth May, chief nursing officer at NHS England, said: ‘Nurses are integral to delivering high quality care to millions of patients each and every day and I am thrilled that we now have record numbers of registered nurses in England.

‘Recognising that we need to go further, the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan commits to doubling the number of adult nurse training placements by 2031 so that we can build on the important progress that has already been made.’


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