Code of Practice for international recruitment

World mosaic

The UK, through the Department of Health and Social Care, is committed to ensuring ethical recruitment practices operate within the NHS through adherence to the UK Code of Practice (CoP) for international recruitment.

NHS Employers manage the list of commercial recruitment agencies recruiting internationally that adhere to the UK CoP. Agencies can find details about the application process and fill in the application form on our website.

The UK CoP reflects the World Health Organisation (WHO) CoP, which promotes voluntary principles and practices in the ethical recruitment of international healthcare professionals within member states. For further information about the WHO Code, see the World Health Organisation’s website. 

Who does the UK code apply to?

The UK code promotes high standards of practice in the international recruitment and employment of healthcare professionals. You can read it on the Department of Health and Social Care website. All healthcare organisations and agencies recruiting internationally are strongly advised to adhere to the code. The code applies to the appointment of all healthcare professionals supplied internationally, including medical staff, nurses, dentists, healthcare scientists, radiographers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and all other allied health professionals.

Joining the code does not mean that the agency concerned is a preferred supplier, nor that employers do not need to consider their obligations to recruit ethically when contracting the agency. Signing up means that an agency has agreed to adhere to the key guiding principles of the code, and NHS Employers will conduct checks (bi-annually and randomly) to ensure compliance. We also encourage employers to share any concerns about an agency with us if they believe the key principles of the code are not being followed.

Guiding principles

There are seven guiding principles that underpin the CoP.

  1. International recruitment is a sound and legitimate contribution to the development of the healthcare workforce. 
  2. Extensive opportunities exist for individuals in terms of training and education and the enhancement of clinical practice. 
  3. Developing countries will not be targeted for recruitment, unless there is an explicit government-to-government agreement with the UK to support recruitment activities. 
  4. International healthcare professionals will have a level of knowledge and proficiency comparable to that expected of an individual trained in the UK. 
  5. International healthcare professionals will demonstrate a level of English language proficiency consistent with safe and skilled communication with patients, clients, carers and colleagues. 
  6. International healthcare professionals legally recruited from overseas to work in the UK are protected by relevant UK employment law in the same way as all other employees. 
  7. International healthcare professionals will have equitable support and access to further education and training and continuing professional development as all other employees.

Best practice benchmarks

It is expected that all organisations that comply with the code will apply these best practice benchmarks and will enter into contracts solely with recruitment agencies that have also agreed to abide by these.

  • There is no active recruitment of healthcare professionals from developing countries. 
  • All international recruitment by healthcare employers will follow good recruitment practice and demonstrate a sound ethical approach. 
  • International healthcare professionals will not be charged fees in relation to gaining employment in the UK. 
  • Appropriate information about the role applied for will be available to all international healthcare professionals. 
  • All international healthcare professionals will have the appropriate level of English language to enable them to undertake their role effectively and meet registration requirements of the appropriate regulatory body.
  • All appointed international healthcare professionals must be registered with the appropriate UK regulatory body. 
  • All international healthcare professionals who are required to undertake supervised practice should be fully supported in this process. 
  • All international healthcare professionals will undergo the normal health assessment prior to commencing employment. 
  • All international healthcare professionals will have appropriate checks undertaken for any criminal convictions or cautions as required by UK legislation. 
  • All international healthcare professionals offered a post will have a valid work permit before entry to the UK unless they are from the EEA area. 
  • Employers should respond appropriately to applications from international healthcare professionals who are making an individual application. 
  • All newly appointed international healthcare professionals will be offered appropriate support and induction. 

Scottish code of practice

The Code of Practice for Scottish healthcare employers was officially declared in NHS Scotland by the Minister of Health and Community Care in March 2006.

NHS Employers has a partnership agreement with the Scottish Executive (SHED) to monitor arrangements for the code of practice. This will ensure a collaborative and consistent approach to monitor the performance and compliance of recruitment agencies and NHS Scotland Health Boards to the principles of the code of practice.

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