Significant Rise in Nurses From ‘Red List’ Countries Registered to Work in NHS: Report

Data show ‘concerning trends’ in the number of people joining the UK register from countries where active recruitment isn’t permitted.
Significant Rise in Nurses From ‘Red List’ Countries Registered to Work in NHS: Report
A general view of staff on a NHS hospital ward on Jan. 18, 2023. (Jeff Moore/PA)
Owen Evans

Thousands of nurses from “red-list” countries have registered to work in the UK, according to recent data.

Figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) published on Wednesday show that over 24,000 people have joined the nursing register from low-income “red list” countries in half a year.

The Code of Practice for International Recruitment states that some developing countries such as Congo, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea, and many more should not be targeted when actively recruiting health or care professionals.

This means all active international recruitment from these countries will need to stop with immediate effect as they risk destabilising those nations.


However, NMC data show upward trends in joiners from some “red list” countries, where active recruitment is prohibited by the UK government’s code of practice.

Overall there were 24,905 professionals from “red list” countries on the register in the six months to Sept. 30 this year.

The report said that there were significant proportional rises in joiners from Ghana and Zambia. There also remain a high number of joiners from Nigeria.

It added that there has been an acceleration in the overall number of joiners who were educated in India, at 7,223 in the last six months, compared to 4,849 between April and September last year, which is a 49 percent rise for the period.

This means India moves further ahead “as the biggest single source of international recruitment to the UK workforce.”

Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive and registrar at the NMC, said in a statement: “Our register is now showing fifty-fifty recruitment between UK and internationally educated nursing and midwifery professionals. All these professionals make a vital and welcome contribution to people’s health and wellbeing.

“However, it’s important that employers continue to be mindful of the Government’s ethical recruitment code, since we’re seeing many joiners from ’red list' countries.

“People from across the world want to come and work in the UK. However, employers must not undermine health systems in countries with the most pressing workforce challenges through active recruitment.”

Royal College of Nursing Chief Nurse Professor Nicola Ranger said in a statement that the “government’s over-reliance on unethical international recruitment from red-list countries has become the norm and cannot continue. It’s a false economy.”

“The government should invest in nursing staff in the UK, funding nurse education and fair pay – not destabilising other health care systems,” she added.

A nurse prepares a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Coventry, England, on April 22, 2022. (Jacob King - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
A nurse prepares a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Coventry, England, on April 22, 2022. (Jacob King - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Record High

The report noted that the number of nurses registered to work in the UK has “hit a record high.”

Some 808,488 nurses, midwives, and nursing associates are now registered with the NMC, a rise of almost 20,000 in half a year.

This includes 748,528 nurses, 42,974 midwives, and 10,560 nursing associates.

A total of 345 international midwives joined in the last six months compared to 115 in the same period last year and just 27 in the six months to September 2018.

The report said that increasing the available midwifery workforce is positive for women, babies, and families in the UK, however the “note of caution is that professionals from the ‘red list’ countries make up a large proportion of these newly registered midwives.”


Commenting on the NMC figures, Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said: “Strong recruitment and steady retention have taken our register of nurses, midwives and nursing associates to another record high. This is very encouraging given the well-publicised pressure on health and care services at a time of rising demand for care.”

“Nurses are integral to delivering high-quality care to millions of patients each and every day and I am thrilled that we now have record numbers of registered nurses in England.

“Recognising that we need to go further, the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan commits to doubling the number of adult nurse training placements by 2031 so that we can build on the important progress that has already been made.”

PA Media contributed to this report.