The Philippines' 'critical brain drain' as nurses leave their home country for jobs abroad

Thousands of nurses from the Phillippines move to the UK to work for the NHS, but it's leaving their health service struggling, ITV News Asia Correspondent reports

The Philippines is the biggest exporter of nurses in the world.

It’s not a boast, it’s more of a burden for a heavily populated, developing nation where poverty, drug abuse and unemployment are major issues.

Remittances sent home from its large overseas population account for 10% of GDP, and much of that comes from nurses.

The classes at the nurse’s training college we visited in Manila were full. There’s no problem attracting students into the healthcare profession, but it is difficult to get them to stay and work in the Philippines.

The nurses say the salary in the UK is much better than the Philippines. Credit: ITV News

We were told 70% of graduates will emigrate, and the UK is one of the most sought-after destinations. The students we spoke to said they will be offered much better pay and conditions in the NHS.

One of them has an aunt who has been working in England for twenty years already and another has a cousin who plans to join her when she goes.

There are an estimated 30,000 Filipinos working in the NHS, their annual salary is six times what they’d earn if they stayed in their home country. It is clear among those we spoke to that the National Health Service has a reputation of providing world class facilities and respect for its frontline workers.

In Manila there are several recruitment agencies dedicated to filling nursing vacancies abroad. We visited one which has sent more than a thousand nurses to the UK in recent years.

They were contacted by several NHS Trusts after the Brexit vote, anticipating a drop off in European recruits.

There was also a recruitment drive during the pandemic, and hundreds of Filipino nurses were sent across to fill shortages exposed by the crisis.

To make it easier to enlist more recruits from the Philippines, the language requirements were recently lowered, allowing more people to pass the English exam and there is a specific visa for healthcare workers.

The UK has been accused of using aggressive hiring tactics to poach nurses away from poorer countries where there are more severe staffing crises.

There’s a shortage of more than one hundred thousand nurses in the Philippines, with most nurses leaving after their mandatory two years in the field.

The head of the Phillipines Nursing Association Credit: ITV News

The head of the country’s Nursing Association told us they are suffering a critical brain drain.

Every month between ten and thirty nurses are resigning, and recently they’ve noted a trend in head nurses and workers in senior positions also leaving to pursue more lucrative careers abroad.

International demand is rising faster than the supply of graduates coming out of colleges like the one we visited in Manila.

They may be lured by better pay but it is their compassionate and hardworking nature which has made Filipino nurses the pride of wards around the world.

The Philippines is losing out on of its greatest assets.

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