How many NHS staff are foreign nationals?

Most NHS staff in England are British – but around 16.5% are not. Around 220,000 out of 1.4 million staff report a non-British nationality. This amounts to one in six of NHS staff with a known nationality.

Between them, these staff hold over 200 different nationalities. Over 95,000 are Asian nationals (7.2%), while Over 70,000 are EU nationals (5.3%). This data is correct at June 2022.

Of every 1,000 NHS staff in England… …835 are British …72 are Asian …54 are from the EU …31 are African …10 are from somewhere else

UK/British	1,122,927			Pakistani	5,833 Indian	44,785			Romanian	5,519 Filipino	30,356			Zimbabwean	5,460 Nigerian	15,439			Spanish	4,988 Irish	13,762			Ghanaian	4,581 Polish	10,836			Egyptian	3,592 Portuguese	7,886			Greek	3,338 Italian	6,733			Nepalese	2,950

Source: NHS Digital, NHS Workforce Statistics June 2022, HCHS staff in post summary tables

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 2.3% 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.

The proportion of NHS staff with Asian and African nationalities has risen in recent years

The proportion of NHS staff reporting an Asian nationality has risen from 4.0% in 2016 to 7.2% in June 2022. Reported African nationality has risen from 1.8% to 3.1% since 2016.

Reported EU nationality rose from 2.9% in 2009 to a high of 5.6% in 2017. Since then it has gradually fallen and was 5.3% in June 2022.

Line chart showing changes in NHS staff by nationality group since 2009

Source: NHS Digital, NHS Workforce Statistics June 2022, HCHS staff in post summary tables

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

28% 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 22%. The lowest percentage of non-British staff is in the North East and Yorkshire, at 9%.

The proportion of non-UK staff is higher for doctors (32.6%) and nurses (23.7%) than for staff overall (16.5%).

Bar chart showing NHS staff nationality by region in England.

Source: NHS Digital, Supplementary information on NHS staff by nationality and region

Has the number of EU staff in the NHS changed since the 2016 referendum?

Because coverage of NHS nationality data has improved over time, comparisons of nationality in the NHS over time should be made only with caution. In June 2016 there were 89,548 with an unknown nationality. As of June 2022, this had fallen to 32,109 – a fall of 65% – 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 higher proportion of NHS staff now have a recorded nationality, increases in the recorded number of staff with a given nationality would be expected even if there were no genuine changes in the actual number of staff with that nationality.

In June 2016 there were 58,702 NHS staff with a recorded EU nationality, and in June 2022 there were 70,735 – an apparent rise. But to present this as the full story would be misleading, because there are over 57,000 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 based solely on the two numbers above.

Claims about changes in the number of EU staff (or other nationality groups) which don’t mention the importance of staff with unknown nationality should be regarded with due scepticism.

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