How can the NHS recruit and retain migrant nurses after Brexit?: Background Report

Georgia Spiliopoulos, Stephen Timmons
Content Type
Special Report
Asia Research Institute, University of Nottingham
The UK Referendum decision to leave the European Union in June 2016 exacerbated some of the long-standing challenges the National Health Service (NHS) has been facing in recruiting and retaining nursing staff. In 2018, it was estimated that one in eight posts was vacant, which translates into 36,000 nursing vacancies (King’s Fund, 2018). Arguably, these challenges have been present since the founding of the NHS in 1948. Pre-established initiatives recruiting overseas nurses to deal with acute staffing shortages during the war effort, mainly from the Commonwealth, were also adopted by the NHS. Hence, the Nurses’ Act of 1949 relaxed the criteria for the registration of overseas nurses set up by the General Nursing Council (Solano and Rafferty, 2007). Therefore, we can trace historical developments in recruiting non-UK nurses, which reflect changing state regulations over time, connected to particular political and financial factors, xenophobic rhetoric and also problems in retaining British nursing staff (Bach, 2007; Ball, 2004; Cangiano et al, 2009; Simpkin and Mossialos, 2017; Solano and Rafferty, 2007). In the 1950s, for example, significant numbers of overseas nurses entered the UK as trainees, while an even higher number of British nurses emigrated abroad, fuelling concerns over training of overseas nurses but also bringing to the forefront anxieties over race (Solano and Rafferty, 2007). An illustrative example of political will influencing recruitment of overseas nurses was seen in New Labour’s push for a ‘modernization agenda’ in the late 1990s and subsequently, a push for international recruitment (Deeming, 2004). However, aggressive recruitment initiatives targeting nursing staff from developing countries such as Zimbabwe, Kenya and Zambia, led to the introduction of the NHS ‘Code of Practice’ on ethical recruitment in 2001 (Deeming, 2004), with calls for overseas recruitment to focus mainly on pre-existing agreements with countries such as the Philippines and India (Buchan, 2006).
Health, Health Care Policy, Brexit, Public Policy
Political Geography
Britain, United Kingdom, Asia