65,000 NHS staff in England are EU nationals - 5.5% of all staff. Overall, 13.1% of NHS staff say that their nationality is not British. Facts and figures on the nationality of NHS staff for doctors, nurses and other groups, and changes since the Brexit vote.

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One NHS Many Nationalities graphicClick thumbnail to enlarge graphic: One NHS, Many Nationalities

The majority of NHS staff in England are British – but a substantial minority are not. Around 153,000 out of 1.2 million staff report a non-British nationality. This is 13.1% of all staff for whom a nationality is known, or just over one in eight. Between them, these staff hold 200 different non-British nationalities. Around 65,000 are nationals of other EU countries – 5.5% of NHS staff in England. Around 52,000 staff are Asian nationals.

Of every 1,000 NHS staff in England…	 	…869 are British 	…55 are from other EU countries 	…44 are Asian 	…21 are African 	…11 are from somewhere else

UK/British	1,021,257			Spanish	5,899 Indian	21,207			Romanian	4,451 Filipino	18,584			Zimbabwean	4,049 Irish	13,320			Pakistani	3,975 Polish	9,272			Greek	3,194 Portuguese	7,178			Ghanaian	2,570 Nigerian	6,770			German	2,427 Italian	6,396			Malaysian	2,298

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 5.2% 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.

9.5% of doctors and 6.4% of nurses are EU nationals

Nationals of other EU countries make up 9.5% of doctors in England’s hospital and community health services. They also make up 6.4% of all nurses and 5.7% of scientific, therapeutic and technical staff. The percentage of doctors and nurses with EU nationality grew between 2009 and 2016. Since 2016, the percentage of EU nurses has fallen.

EU NATIONALS IN DIFFERENT NHS STAFF GROUPS					 	Category	Number	   % of staff group		 	ALL STAFF	65,073			 	Nurses and Health Visitors	19,841			 	Clinical Support Staff	15,310			 	Hospital Doctors	10,873			 	Scientific, Therapeutic and Technical	8,797			 	Infrastructure Support	8,249

37% of hospital doctors gained their primary medical qualification outside the UK. 20% qualified in Asia and 9% qualified in the EU. For GPs, 4% qualified in the EU and 13% qualified in Asia.

One-third of all EU nationals in the NHS work in London

The highest concentration of staff with other EU nationalities is in London. One-third of all EU NHS staff work in London. In North West London, those with EU nationality make up 11% of all NHS staff. There are 33 NHS trusts where over 10% of staff are estimated to be nationals of other EU countries as of March 2019; most are in London and the South East.

More staff are nationals of ‘old’ EU countries (those which were members before 2004, such as Spain and Italy) than ‘new’ EU countries (those which have joined since 2004, such as Poland and Romania).

How to interpret changes since the EU 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 NHS 89,546 staff in England with unknown nationality. That has now decreased to 63,842 – a fall of nearly 30%, while the total number of staff employed by the NHS has increased. This means that some apparent increases in staff numbers for particular nationalities and nationality groups are likely to be due to improved data coverage rather than genuine increases.

In June 2016 there were 58,698 staff with recorded EU nationality, and in March 2019 there were 65,073. But to present this as the full story would be misleading, because we know that there are nearly 26,000 more staff for whom nationality is known now than in 2016. While it is likely that there has been an overall increase in the number of NHS staff with EU nationality since 2016, we can’t be sure about the scale of the change.

Claims about changes in the number of EU staff which don’t account for the importance of staff with unknown nationality should be regarded with due scepticism.

One way to partially account for this is to present the number of EU staff as a percentage of all staff with a known nationality. On this measure, the percentage of staff with EU nationality has changed little since the referendum. Note that this measure is sensitive to changes in staff in other nationality groups and overall staff numbers, so it is still not a definitive measure of changes.

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 6.4%. The percentage of EU doctors has fallen slightly to 9.5%, having risen as high as 9.9% in March 2017. In other staff groups, the percentage of EU staff has increased.

Looking at individual nationalities, only Spanish nationals have seen a substantial recorded decrease since June 2016, from 7,240 to 5,899 (a fall of 19%). 

EU nationals have fallen as a percentage of those joining the NHS

In 2015/16, 11% of those joining the NHS were EU nationals (counting those for whom a nationality was known). In 2016/17, this fell to 9%, and in 2017/18 the figure was 7.9%. For nurses the percentage of EU joiners fell from 19% in 2015/16 to 12.4% in 2016/17, then further to 7.9% in 2017/18. and 7.6% in 2018/19.

In 2017/18, 12.8% of nurses leaving the NHS were EU nationals, up from 9% in 2015/16. This fell slightly to 11.8% in 2018/19.

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