NHS vacancies

In England, the total number of NHS vacancies in June 2022 was 132,139 – a vacancy rate of 9.7%. This is an increase from the previous year, when the rate was 7.6%.

The vacancy rate for medical staff was 7.3% (10,582 vacancies), up from 7.0% a year earlier.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publishes statistics on doctor to population ratios for countries in the organisation. In 2021, the UK’s patient to doctor to population ratio was 3.2 per 1,000 people. This is lower than the EU nations in the OECD (based on 2021 or latest available data – see OECD website for details on data comparability).

How many doctors train in England?

The Office for Students sets intake targets for education providers to control the amount of people studying medicine per year. In England, medicine school places are usually capped at 7,500, although the cap was lifted in 2020 and 2021 due to the impact of the covid pandemic (see below).

How many doctors are recruited from overseas?

The routine NHS Digital publication on the General Practice Workforce includes details of the country of qualification of GPs working in the NHS in England.

The latest figures are for November 2022 when a total of 11,943 GP were recorded as having qualified outside the UK. This represented around 27% of GPs who had details of their country of qualification recorded (96% of GPs had details recorded). A breakdown of the area of qualification showed that 2,106 qualified in the European Economic Area (EAA) and 9,927 outside the EAA  – details of individual countries are not provided.

Data on the country of qualification of NHS Hospital and Community Health Services (HCHS) doctors in England is not routinely published.

Government policy on training doctors

From September 2018, the Government increased the number of medical school places in England from 6,000 to 7,500 per year and opened five new medical schools.

The NHS Long Term Plan (January 2019) said the number of places “could grow further” depending on the budget available.

The Interim NHS People Plan (June 2019) said the expansion of undergraduate medical school places would be reviewed later in the year and there would be a focus on international recruitment in the meantime.

Building on the Interim Plan, the NHS People Plan was published in July 2020 and did not make any new commitments on increasing medical school places.

The Government lifted the cap on domestic medicine school places in 2020 and adjusted the cap in 2021 in response to changes in exam arrangements during the coronavirus pandemic. The cap was reintroduced in 2022.  

Calls to increase domestic training

In 2022, the Health and Social Care Committee completed an inquiry into Workforce: recruitment, training and retention in health and social care. The Committee found:

  • The General Medical Council, British Medica Association, Medical Schools Council and Royal Society of Medicine unanimously said the UK is not training enough undergraduate medical doctors.
  • Record numbers of students are applying to medical school, but there around three times more people applying than spaces available.
  • Some stakeholders have recommended increasing the number of places by 5,000 per year, while others have recommended an increase of 15,000 per year.

The Committee concluded the number of medical school places should be increased by 5,000 from around 9,500 per year to 14,500 and the cap on the number of places offered to international students should be lifted. The Committee said to achieve this the Government must consider increasing medical schools, clinical placements and speciality training positions, as well as their geographical spread.

Stakeholder commentary

The following ley stakeholders have published analysis on the expansion of medical school places and related issues:

The Labour party have said they would double the number of medical school places to 15,000 per year.

Parliamentary material

Commons Library briefings

NHS staffing levels CDP-0209, 18 October 2022

NHS Key Statistics: England, November 2022 CDP-7281, 16 November 2022

Select committees

Workforce: recruitment, training and retention in health and social care inquiry  
House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee


NHS Workforce Vol 724 Col 271 6 December 2022

Parliamentary questions

Doctors: Training 20 Dec 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 108172

Medicine: Training 12 Dec 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 104106

Doctors: Labour Turnover and Recruitment 01 Dec 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | HL3677

Medicine: Education 01 Dec 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | HL3675

Doctors: Training 15 Nov 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 80812

Junior Doctors: Training 01 Nov 2022 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 48430

Further information

Anthony Browne: All at once, Hunt is suddenly in a good place to help ensure that we train the doctors we need
Conservative Home 

Labour pledge training places for thousands more nurses and health visitors
Nursing Times

Rising numbers of doctors join NHS specialty training
Health Education England NHS  

The state of medical education and practice in the UK: The workforce report 2022
General Medical Council

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