Nursing workforce – International recruitment

The NHS is the largest single employer in the UK, and we are proud that our workforce is extremely diverse – just like our patients. The NHS has always benefited from overseas recruitment and from nurses coming from other countries to live and work in England. Recruitment from outside of the UK continues to feature as an important part of the workforce supply strategy of NHS organisations, in line with the NHS People Plan. The NHS Long Term Plan set out the ambitions for the NHS over the next 10 years, identifying ethical international recruitment as a workforce priority.

International recruitment will be a vital component of support for ongoing management of COVID-19 in areas across England, for other service pressures, and for recovery for the NHS from the pandemic.

The 2021/2022 NHS priorities and operational planning guidance sets out the steps we need to take to sustainably increase the size of our workforce in line with the measures set out in the NHS Long Term Plan. To ensure that the NHS is able to grow for the future, health systems are asked to include the international recruitment of nursing staff in their plans for the next year.

The Nursing International Recruitment Programme

The Nursing International Recruitment Programme is delivering an ethical and sustainable recruitment model that supports NHS organisations to increase and develop their international recruitment plans.

The safe arrival, induction and embedding of new people into the NHS workforce is our number one priority for international recruitment. We have put in place a package of financial support for trusts to increase the number of international recruits they have, and as a priority to provide safe onboarding, induction and pastoral support for these recruits.

Our programme activity focuses on:

  • Supporting NHS trusts with international recruitment, including developing the NHS as the ‘destination of choice’ for internationally trained nurses
  • Supporting new, innovative and collaborative approaches to trust/system-led international recruitment, to reduce duplication and competition
  • Ensuring all international recruitment the NHS conducts is ‘nurse centred’ and includes effective induction, pastoral and professional support
  • Supporting trusts to access the international market for nurses

We are working with a number of partner organisations to deliver this programme of work and promote the NHS as an employer of choice for international nurses.

There are strict ethical standards for international recruitment for NHS trusts – these are especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a significant impact on health and care services and workforce globally.

We are working with the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), and NHS Employers and other national bodies to support collaborative, effective and ethical international recruitment.

The DHSC has published a Code of practice for the international recruitment of health and social care personnel in England. The code of practice implements the World Health Organisation (WHO) global code of practice and ensures the fundamental principles of transparency, fairness and promotion of health systems sustainability are fully embedded in all international recruitment activity undertaken in the UK.

Some new potential supply nations are also emerging, and we will be working to understand which these may be, and to raise the profile of opportunities we can offer for nurses in the NHS.

The professional regulatory bodies are also playing an important role in enabling the safe and sustainable recruitment and employment of trained overseas professionals in the UK.

North West Refugee Support Pilot Programme

The North West Refugee Support pilot programme is our first formal collaboration with the charity RefuAid and aims to support refugees who have a background in nursing and are currently living in the UK.

Through our partnership with RefuAid and Liverpool John Moores University, 14 refugees who are all qualified nurses in their home country have completed an intensive training programme and began their careers in the NHS. Three trusts in the North West of England, which cover a total of 11 hospitals, have employed the participants into healthcare roles and are providing them with ongoing pastoral support and further training.

In addition to the first 14 participants, there are further cohorts of refugee nurses registered with RefuAid who hope to join the NHS later this year.

International nursing associations

For the third year running we have seen a notable increase in the in the number of people from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) on the permanent nursing register, rising from 84,316 to 92,260. For England alone, the number rose from 61,500 to 68,586.

The health and wellbeing and professional support of all of our workforce is a top priority and we work closely with nursing diaspora groups to ensure our international nurses have the pastoral support they need.

The International Recruitment team manages the ‘International Nursing Associations Diaspora’. This is the collective term for the identified international nursing associations in England that provide support to international nurses and midwives in the NHS.  This collaborative promotes services to NHS staff and works to advance the pastoral and professional support, and health and wellbeing of international nurses in the NHS. The diaspora supports the International Recruitment programme through providing data and insight that enables better understanding of the needs of international nurses and supports communities to be heard.

The organisations that make up the diaspora group are:

Find out more about our actions and initiatives to support ethnic minority nurses and midwives.