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Figures from the OECD reveal that a third of the UK’s healthcare workforce was born overseas – while the UK ranks second in the EU in terms of the number of British-born doctors working abroad, and top in terms of the number of nurses it sends overseas.

The OECD’s International Migration Outlook 2015 includes a chapter focusing on migrant workers in the healthcare sector, including both inward and outward migration to and from the UK.

Within the UK itself, there are more doctors than a decade ago – with a growth rate “particularly noticeable” according to the OECD, and taking the healthcare profession’s ‘density’ to 2.8 doctors per 1,000 population in 2012.

As the public and private healthcare sectors grow, attracting and retaining the best talent becomes increasingly challenging – making outsourced recruitment, which is sometimes overlooked among more ‘traditional’ methods, perhaps a way forward in the years to come.

Sourcing and Screening candidates made easy

Of the doctors working in the UK in 2010-11, about 35% were foreign-born, including more than 20% of those educated to a high level; just over one in five nurses were foreign-born too, and almost all of these had a high level of education.

In terms of foreign-born doctors, the US has the highest number overall, but the UK and Germany saw the greatest rises during the 2000’s, with a substantial rise recorded in Ireland too.

The report notes too that the number of foreign-born doctors includes many who travel to a host country for their education, and then remain to work after completing a medical degree.

UK-born healthcare workers overseas

Globally, the UK is the fourth-highest exporter of doctors with about 17,000 British-born doctors now working overseas.

This places it behind India (30,000), China (27,000) and Germany (25,000) and narrowly ahead of Pakistan and the Philippines; the UK’s emigrant doctor count rose only slightly over the decade from 2000-01 to 2010-11.

Greater growth was seen in the UK’s emigrant nurse workforce, from around 45,000 to about 53,000 over the same period.

This puts the UK third globally behind the Philippines and India – which consequently makes it the EU’s single largest exporter of nurses, too.

With ever-easier migration within the EU and continued international demand for skilled healthcare workers, the UK’s prestigious medical education system is likely to keep UK-qualified doctors and nurses highly sought-after on the world stage.

For those seeking employment abroad, this makes OECD countries a strong starting point, and many recruiters will no doubt appreciate having British-born and educated healthcare candidates on their books too.

Under Pressure

Back home in the UK, the economic turbulence reaching back almost a decade has seen many sectors come under significant pressure, and the already-stretched NHS is no exception.

With staff already working long shifts, unsociable hours and unpaid overtime, the recession put the squeeze on pay rises for permanent employees of the NHS, and in November 2015 new national price caps were introduced for agency staff working in the NHS too.

A petition to demand that Parliament should “stop pay caps for agency nurses and pay freezes for NHS nurses” passed 10,000 signatures, leading the government to respond:

“There are no pay freezes. Public sector pay awards will average 1% pa for four years. Temporary staff can play an important role but we consider they should not be rewarded more than permanent staff.

“Although there was a pay freeze for two years for most public sector staff including the NHS, many NHS staff including nurses continue to receive annual incremental pay rises at an average of over 3% each year, which is paid in addition to any annual pay award.”

Whether or not those working in the NHS feel adequately rewarded for their efforts remains a point of contention, and more lucrative offers from overseas may yet see the UK’s export of doctors and nurses climb even higher in the years ahead.

If a clampdown on immigration rates causes fewer highly educated healthcare professionals to come into the UK, while the country remains among the highest net exporters, employers are logically likely to find it increasingly challenging to recruit and therefore patient care will suffer.

Tags: UK, UK-born healthcare workers overseas, United Kingdom