Migration and the health and care workforce

Information on the role of migration and the impacts of immigration policy on the UK’s health and care workforce.

29 June 2023

A recently published evidence paper, authored by the Migration Observatory, examines the increase in international recruitment that has benefited health and care sector employers in the UK at a time of significant staff shortages. It also outlines the difficulties and risks associated with a reliance on international recruitment.

The paper was published by ReWAGE, an independent expert advisory group which analyses the latest work and employment research. The research for this project was produced with the support of NHS Employers and the Trust for London.

Summary of key points in the report:
  • The UK immigration system admitted unprecedented numbers of overseas health and care workers in the year ending March 2023: almost 100,000 people, making up the majority of Skilled Worker entry visas
  • The NHS in England has become more reliant on overseas health professionals over the past five years. Half of secondary-care doctors registered with the General Medical Council in England in 2022 had received their primary medical qualification abroad (excluding trainees)
  • Overseas health and care workers come primarily from non-EU countries. EU nurses played a substantial role in NHS recruitment in the early 2010s but this was a temporary phenomenon
  • Reliance on international recruitment varies across the nations and regions of the UK and among NHS hospital trusts.

The report notes that while international recruitment is helpful for employers trying to recruit staff in the short run, it does not address the underlying challenges in hiring and retaining domestically trained workers, who still make up most of the workforce.

It concludes that if a high reliance on overseas workers persists long term it also brings vulnerabilities, including exposure to international competition for health workers and risks of exploitation in the care sector.

Read the report in full.