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NHSE expands overseas recruitment drive

Published on: 30 May 2023

NHS England has expanded its drive to increase overseas recruitment, introducing funding for trusts to hire more types of health professionals from abroad.

Employers are now able to use national NHS England funding to recruit physiotherapists, therapeutic radiographers and operating department practitioners from overseas.

Until now, within allied health professionals, the scheme has only covered diagnostic radiographers, occupational therapists and podiatrists. None of the professions are on the government’s shortage occupation list.

NHSE said it decided to expand the AHP scheme to more staff groups where it had decided there were NHS shortages, and others where it had identified there was global availability of staff. For example, it said other groups such as prosthetics professionals still could not be recruited from abroad as there is limited international supply. Trusts are now able to apply for funding and other support to increase overseas AHP recruitment.

Since the pandemic, there has been a concerted drive to recruit more staff from abroad, with a strong focus on nursing.

Nursing and Midwifery Council data published this week revealed half of the 52,148 new joiners to the nursing register last year were educated internationally. Overall, around one in six NHS staff currently are from abroad.

It comes amid fresh delays to the NHS long-term workforce plan, which has been long promised by government, partly with the aim of increasing domestic supply to reduce the UK’s reliance on overseas staff, which could be disrupted.

International recruitment practices have also come under closer scrutiny with warnings that post-Brexit, NHS trusts have increased recruitment from “red-list” countries.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has warned there are fewer physiotherapists per person in the UK when compared to other European countries and predicted the NHS needs 12,000 additional physios to meet demand.

Rob Yeldham, director of strategy at CSP, said increasing staff numbers through international recruitment was a sensible move to tackle immediate pressures and pointed out internationally trained physios have “long accounted for around 15 per cent of the workforce and make an enormous contribution”. However, he stressed it was not a sustainable long-term solution.

“There is a global shortage of physios so the international supply is limited, and it is unethical to strip developing healthcare systems of their physios,” Mr Yeldham said. “So it is essential that we rapidly increase the numbers of UK-trained physiotherapists to meet growing demand.”

He also warned international arrivals are sometimes “being set up to fail” and said they need to have better induction and support to adapt to UK healthcare.