Quarter of specialist doctors in UK born in Middle East or Asia

New census documents reveal vital role of foreign-born specialists, GPs and nurses in Britain

Newly released data has revealed Britain's health and care workforce demographics. Getty Images
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Almost a quarter of specialist doctors in the UK were born in the Middle East and Asia, new census documents reveal.

The latest census data released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) on migration and the labour market found that nearly half of specialist doctors in England and Wales, amounting to 47.5 per cent, were born outside the UK. The largest group among them was born in the Middle East and Asia, at 26.3 per cent, followed by those born in Africa, at 8.5 per cent.

The figures provide a snapshot of the diversity of the health and care workforce, as well as highlighting how recruitment from across the world has shaped the modern-day NHS.

The census took place in England and Wales on March 21, 2021 and the results are being published in stages by the ONS.

Two in five GPs, or 40.6 per cent, were born outside the UK, with more than half of that group — 21.8 per cent — being born in the Middle East and Asia, and 9 per cent in Africa.

One in five specialist nurses was born outside of the UK, and 7.9 per cent in the Middle East and Asia. More than a quarter of mental heath nurses — 26.9 per cent — were born outside the UK, with 20.2 per cent of those born in Africa.

Midwifery nurses had the smallest foreign-born workforce, yet they made up 13.7 per cent of the group, with 4.5 per cent born in Africa and 4.1 per cent from the so-called EU14 — countries that were EU members before 2004.

Among paramedics, 1 in 11 (9.1 per cent) were born outside the UK, the majority in Antarctica and Oceania.

The census findings come as the UK’s National Health Service faces staff shortages, with a growing number of doctors being recruited from overseas. Meanwhile, more doctors from non-UK and EU countries are leaving Britain due to stringent migration regulations, according to BBC analysis.

Dr Kitty Mohan, chairwoman of the international committee at the British Medical Association, highlighted the importance of internationally trained doctors in the UK.

“The NHS has grown heavily reliant on doctors from overseas who have and continue to make an enormous contribution to our health service," she said. "As well as trying to recruit and retain doctors here in the UK, it is crucial that we ensure that international staff feel welcomed and valued and have the appropriate support to work here in the NHS where they are so badly needed."

The census found that most migrant groups in the UK were more likely to enter professional occupations, such as doctors, nurses, solicitors or teachers. A third of those born in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and other Pacific Island nations, for example, had entered such professions.

The census also found employment inequalities among the various groups. Nearly three in four EU-born residents were employed, whereas adults born in British overseas territories had the highest rates of unemployment. Nonetheless, this figure made up 6.5 per cent of total unemployed people.

The profession with the highest UK-born workforce was farming, at 97.5 per cent.

Updated: March 28, 2023, 1:27 PM