Health and care employers have been urged to follow ethical recruitment guidelines after it emerged that more than 2,000 nurses have come to work in the UK from so-called red list recruitment countries.
New figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) show that a record 771,445 nurses and midwives are now registered with the regulator – an increase of 13,144 between April and September.
The NMC said the growth in the number of professionals on the register is partly being driven by the number of nurses who trained overseas.
It said that 11,496 international professionals joined the NMC register for the first time between April and September and that most of these nurses and midwives trained in India, the Philippines, Nigeria and Ghana.
But Nigeria and Ghana are on a so-called “red list” where active recruitment is banned so as not to exacerbate domestic health workforce shortages.
The Latest NMC report shows that 1,670 nurses and midwives who trained in Nigeria joined the UK register in the six months to September – a rise of 25% from the same time frame in 2021.
And 543 nurses who trained in Ghana joined the UK register – an increase of 61% compared to the same time frame in 2021.
The NMC said it is “essential” for all employers and agencies in health and social care to follow the Government’s code of practice on ethical recruitment.
Meanwhile the regulator said that with more international joiners, and the UK workforce being more ethnically diverse, it is also important that employers create an inclusive culture for all staff.
Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive and registrar of the NMC, said: “At a time of great pressure across health and social care in the UK, we welcome the growth of our register.
“As we face a very busy and challenging winter this may be a particularly anxious time for almost 24,000 professionals who have joined the register since April, nearly half of whom have come from outside the UK.
“That’s why it’s vital for the increasingly diverse professionals joining the nursing and midwifery workforce to be welcomed into an inclusive culture that supports them to thrive.
“Going forward, it’s also essential for all employers and agencies in health and social care to follow the Department of Health and Social Care’s code of practice on ethical recruitment.
“While recruitment isn’t permitted from ‘red list’ countries, there are two, Nigeria and Ghana, in the ten most common countries of training for international professionals joining our register.
“All international joiners make a welcome and valuable contribution to our nation’s health and wellbeing, and those who come must be fully supported.
“But it’s essential the UK doesn’t exacerbate workforce shortages and put health systems in other countries at further risk in seeking to address rising demand for health and care services here.”
Pat Cullen, general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The Government is raiding the rest of the world to cover up for huge losses at home and these figures leave ministers with serious ethical questions to answer.
“We have repeatedly called on the UK Government to invest in nursing, including fair pay, as that is the one lever at their disposal to immediately boost recruitment and retention.
“Instead, they are recruiting nurses from countries that can ill afford to spare them themselves, such as Nigeria and Ghana.
“Internationally trained colleagues are hugely valued and experienced. But in the context of a global nursing workforce crisis the Government has got its policy completely back to front.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Supporting and growing the workforce is one of my immediate priorities and these figures are testament to the significant progress we’ve made in training and recruiting staff.
“This means that as we head into winter there are a record 771,445 nurses, midwives and nursing associates on the NMC’s register – alongside the record numbers of nurses working in the NHS in England.
“Alongside growing the workforce at home, we are also recruiting talented health workers from abroad, as part of our plans to build a stronger, healthier NHS for the long-term and give people the security of knowing that it will be there for them when they need it.”