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Suffolk NHS trusts see international recruitment soar as UK intake stalls



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The share of homegrown doctors and nurses joining England’s NHS is at its lowest for seven years, BBC Shared Data Unit analysis of workforce data has found.

Some 58 per cent of doctors joining the health service in 2021 came from the UK, with health bosses increasingly turning to international recruitment.

The British Medical Association said the NHS faced a ‘workforce crisis’.

West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds
West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds

The government, however, insisted there were record numbers of doctors, a rise of 34 per cent since 2010.

While overall numbers have been increasing, critics said declining domestic recruitment was unsustainable to keep pace with demand.

Data provided by NHS Digital was analysed, showing the nationalities of joiners, leavers and staff in post in England’s NHS from 2015-2021.

Across England, the percentages of EU and EEA nationals leaving England’s NHS rose consecutively each calendar year from 2015-18 and the percentage of rest of world nationals leaving England’s NHS rose consecutively each calendar year from 2017-2021, too.

The percentage of EU and EEA nationals joining the NHS in England also dropped in every consecutive year from 2015 to 2021.

New joiners from the rest of the world increased in that same time period.

At West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, the share of UK staff joining the trust dropped by 1.1 percentage points between 2015 and 2021 and the share of EU staff joining the trust dropped by 9.9 percentage points.

Over the same period the share of staff recruited from the rest of the world rose by 11 percentage points.

In terms of staff leavers, at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust the share of UK staff leaving the trust dropped by 3.4 percentage points between 2015 and 2021.

Over the same period the share of EU staff leaving the trust increased by 1.2 percentage points while the share of staff from the rest of the world leaving rose by 2.2 percentage points.

Last month, we reported how more than 11,000 working full-time equivalent days absence were recorded at West Suffolk Hospital due to staff suffering from stress, anxiety and depression. The total across West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust across all its sites was 12,669.75.

Then, NHS workers union UNISON said vacancy rates at West Suffolk Hospital were running at 10 per cent and there were more than 100 unfilled nursing posts.

Jeremy Over, executive director of workforce and communications at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Picture: West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust
Jeremy Over, executive director of workforce and communications at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Picture: West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

Jeremy Over, executive director of workforce and communications at the trust, said: “The trust works hard to ensure it is an attractive employer to all new joiners from the local area, across the UK, and overseas. International recruitment is a vital and successful part of our approach, in addition to developing our local and UK-wide pipeline of staff.

"We welcome those who join us from other countries to serve in our trust and greatly value the contribution our international colleagues make to the NHS.

"As a significant employer in the west of Suffolk, the trust is committed to fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment in which international staff can live and work."

According to the trust it has recruited 461 new members of staff since January 1, with 116 from overseas.

It employs 4,869 members of staff in both hospital and community healthcare settings as of August 3, with 935 from overseas.

The trust has employed 51 nurses from the Philippines, 17 from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and six from Singapore, among others, since November 2021.

The Wedgwood unit in Bury St Edmunds, which is run by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust
The Wedgwood unit in Bury St Edmunds, which is run by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust saw the share of UK staff joining the trust drop by 17.5 percentage points between 2015 and 2021.

Over the same period the share of staff recruited from the EU increased by 1.4 percentage points and the number of joiners from the rest of the world rose by 6.1 percentage points.

Meanwhile, the share of UK staff leaving Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust dropped by 1.8 percentage points between 2015 and 2021 – the share of EU staff leaving the trust increased by 1.2 percentage points and the share of staff from the rest of the world leaving increased by 0.6 percentage points.

Ipswich Hospital, part of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust. Picture: Google
Ipswich Hospital, part of the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust. Picture: Google

At East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, the share of UK staff joining the trust increased by 1.9 percentage points between 2015 and 2021 and the share of staff joining the trust from the rest of the world increased by 16.4 percentage points, but the share of staff recruited from the EU dropped by 18.3 percentage points.

The trust also saw the share of UK staff leaving drop by 0.8 percentage points between 2015 and 2021 while the number of EU staff leaving also fell, by 3.7 percentage points, but the share of staff from the rest of the world leaving increased by 4.6 percentage points.

Patricia Marquis, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) director for England, said ministers must do more to reduce the ‘disproportionate reliance’ on international recruits.

“We are seeing a sharp increase in people leaving nursing, with more of our members saying they are considering alternative careers,” she said.

Kate Shoesmith, deputy chief executive at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), said staff shortages in the NHS were ‘severe even before the pandemic’ but were now ‘the worst they had ever been’.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said it was ‘high time for the government to commit to a fully-funded, long-term workforce plan for the NHS’ to tackle ‘chronic workforce shortages’.

He said ‘relentless demand’ was affecting staff due to vacancies which stood at around 110,000 – ‘gaps which cannot and should not be filled through international recruitment alone’.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the annual percentage decline in EU nationals joining the health service could have been down to more rigorous language tests introduced by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and the economic recovery of southern European countries.