The majority of NHS staff in England are British – but around 15% are not. Around 190,000 out of 1.35 million staff report a non-British nationality. This is 14.6% of all staff for whom a nationality is known, or one in seven.

Between them, these staff hold over 200 different nationalities. Over 70,000 are EU nationals – 5.4% of NHS staff in England. Over 75,000 (5.8%) report an Asian nationality. This data is correct at March 2021.

Treemap graphic showing the nationality of NHS staff in England. Of every 1,000 NHS staff in England, 854 are British, 58 are Asian, 54 are EU nationals, 25 are Africa, and 9 are from somewhere else

The NHS records self-reported nationality, which may sometimes reflect a person’s cultural heritage rather than their citizenship or country of birth, and isn’t necessarily a measure of immigration. For 3% of NHS workers, nationality is unknown. The percentages here exclude staff whose nationality is unknown. This data doesn’t cover those working in social care or in the independent sector, or staff not directly employed by the NHS.

8.7% of doctors and 5.6% of nurses are EU nationals

EU nationals make up 8.7% of doctors in England’s hospital and community health services. They also make up 5.6% of all nurses and 5.8% of scientific, therapeutic and technical staff. The percentage of doctors and nurses with EU nationality grew between 2009 and 2016. Since 2016, those percentages have fallen.

The most common EU nationalities in the NHS are Irish, Polish, and Portuguese.

EU Nationals in different NHS staff groups		 Category		Number ALL STAFF		70,660 Nurses and Health Visitors		18,936 Clinical Support Staff		18,849 Hospital Doctors		11,206 Infrastructure support		10,017 Scientific, Therapeutic and Technical		9,982

22% of doctors and 14% of nurses are nationals of non-EU countries

One in seven nurses and over one in five doctors report the nationality of a non-EU and non-UK country. The most common non-EU nationalities in the NHS are Indian, Filipino and Nigerian.

Non-EU nationals in different NHS staff groups		 Category		Number ALL STAFF		119,911 Nurses and Health Visitors		46,670 Hospital Doctors		28,039 Clinical Support Staff		27,035 Infrastructure Support		8,668 Scientific, Therapeutic and Technical		7,811

London has the highest proportion of NHS staff with non-UK nationality

27% of NHS staff in London report a nationality other than British – higher than any other NHS region. The next-highest proportion is in the East of England, at 20%. The lowest percentage of non-British staff is in the North East and Yorkshire, at 9%.

Stacked bar chart showing the proportion of NHS staff in each region reporting nationalities by grouping, e.g. UK, EU, Asian, African and other  

Has the number of EU staff in the NHS changed since the referendum?

Because data coverage of NHS nationality data has improved over time, comparisons of the number of EU staff in the NHS over time should be made only with caution. In June 2016 there were 89,546 staff with unknown nationality. That has now decreased to 40,166 (a fall of over half) while the total number of staff employed by the NHS has increased.

This means that some apparent increases in staff numbers for nationalities and nationality groups are likely to be due to improved data coverage rather than genuine increases.

In other words: because a greater proportion of NHS staff now have a nationality recorded, we would expect to see increases in the recorded number of staff with a given nationality, even if there were no genuine changes in the actual number of staff with that nationality.

In June 2016 there were 58,698 staff with recorded EU nationality, and in January there were over 70,660. But to present this as the full story would be misleading, because we know that there are almost 50,000 more staff for whom nationality is known now than in 2016.

It is very likely that there has been an overall increase in the number of NHS staff with EU nationality since 2016, but we can’t be sure about the scale of the change, and it would be misleading to calculate an increase just based on the two numbers above.

Claims about changes in the number of EU staff which don’t mention the importance of staff with unknown nationality should be treated sceptically.

Nurses and health visitors are the only staff group to record a fall in the number of recorded EU nationals since the EU referendum. EU nurses as a percentage of those with a known nationality have fallen from 7.4% of the total to 5.6%.

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