NHS 'would not cope' without foreign workers, nursing leaders warn

The NHS "would not cope" without workers from abroad, nursing leaders have warned.

New figures suggest the number of EU nationals joining NHS hospitals has soared - around one in five nurses recruited in England 2015/16 were non-British EU nationals, up from one in 14 in 2011/12.

During the same period, the proportion of British nurses joining hospitals dropped from roughly 78% to 70%.

The figures show foreign nurses make a "critical contribution" to the NHS, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said.

The Department of Health said overseas workers "form a crucial part of our NHS and we value their contribution immensely".

The new figures are based on analysis by the Press Association and showed that of the 33,000 nurses recorded as joining hospitals in 2015/16, just over 6,000 held an EU nationality other than British.

  • Here is a selection of the figures for 2015/16 (based on data from NHS Digital):

The rights of EU citizens to continue to work in the UK is likely to be one of the key areas of the Brexit negotiations.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt this week told the Conservative party conference that he wanted EU nationals working in the NHS "to be able to stay post-Brexit".

Donna Kinnair, director of nursing, policy and practice at the RCN, said: "Nurses trained in other countries have contributed to the NHS since its inception.

"The health service would not cope without their contribution, and with the future supply of nurses looking uncertain this situation will not change any time soon.

"Allowing the ambiguity about the future of health care staff from the EU to continue is completely unfair.

"The Government must act now and develop a coherent and sustainable workforce strategy, which recognises the critical contribution of overseas nurses as well as the pressing need to educate, recruit and retain a domestic nursing workforce in the UK."

Jeremy Hunt said he wanted EU nationals working in the NHS 'to be able to stay post-Brexit'. Credit: PA

The proportion of EU nationals recruited as nurses in 2015/16 may be even higher than one in five, as the data from NHS Digital includes 1,674 nurses whose nationality was recorded as "unknown".

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We want to see the outstanding work of nurses who are already trained overseas continue, but at the same time we are already delivering our plan to train more home-grown nurses - there are over 10,700 additional nurses on our wards since May 2010 and 50,000 in training, and our changes to student nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals funding will also create thousands more training places by the end of this parliament."