More than a quarter of all mental health nurses working in England and Wales were born outside of the UK, data released by the Office of National Statistics has revealed.
Data from the 2021 census published this week showed a significant proportion of the nursing workforce in England and Wales is now born overseas, underlining a continued trend towards increased international representation in the nursing workforce.
The census found that 26.9% of mental health nurses were born overseas, while one in five (20.5%) of all specialist nurses were born outside of the UK.
Those born in African nations made up the ‘largest part’ of the mental health nurse workforce and account for 20.2% of the overall total of mental health nurses in England and Wales, according to the data.
In addition, just over one in 10 community nurses (11.6) and children’s nurses (11.5) working in England and Wales were born outside the UK.
Furthermore, the data showed over a third (37.8%) of ‘other nursing professionals’ and 18.1% of ‘nurse practitioners’ working in England and Wales were born overseas.
Within the adult social care sector, one in four (25.3%) care workers and home carers were born outside the UK.
Chief executive of the International Council of Nurses, Howard Catton, told Nursing in Practice this new data partly challenged the ‘narrative’ that nurses migrating to the UK are at an earlier stage of their career, because of the number of those now in specialist roles.
‘There is often a narrative around international migration or a perception that nurses who are moving to the UK or other countries… are more likely to be nurses who have recently graduated and are near the start of their career,’ he said.
‘But we have been aware for while that it is often more experienced and specialist nurses that are being recruited and targeted for recruitment.’
Mr Catton added: ‘Those nurses are even more difficult to replace because they have years of experience and may have additional qualifications. It’s not just an issue of numbers, it is about the experience.’
This issue is particularly acute in the area of mental health nursing. According to an ICN report published last year, there are only 300,000 mental health nurses working across the world.
Furthermore, numbers of mental health nurses vary vastly from region to region, with only 0.9 mental health nurses per 100,000 nurses in Africa compared with 25.2 per 100,000 in Europe.
Matthew McClelland, executive director of strategy and insight at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), highlighted the ‘big rise’ in the number of international joiners to its register in recent years and said this indicated the UK had become ‘more reliant on the global workforce’.
While highlighting the issue of discrimination in health and care, Mr McClelland stressed more must be done to ensure ‘inclusive’ workplace environments.
He added: ‘Everyone working in health and care has a part to play in creating cultures free of discrimination and bias.’
The ONS data refers to nurses and other workers born outside of the UK, and this could therefore include nurses who trained in the UK and have lived there for many years prior to training as a nurse.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘International recruitment is only one part of our plans to grow the NHS workforce and the supply of homegrown staff is increasing.’
They added that it collaborates ‘closely with governments and have a strict Code of practice to ensure international recruitment is ethical and beneficial for both countries and staff’.