Boris Johnson’s pledge to recruit 50,000 more nurses questioned as numbers from EU continue to fall

A view of the Royal Free Hospital teaching hospital in the Hampstead area of the London Borough of C

A view of the Royal Free Hospital teaching hospital in the Hampstead area of the London Borough of Camden. The hospital is part of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Boris Johnson's pledge to recruit 50,000 more nurses to the NHS has been questioned after the numbers from the EU fell again.

The pledge was a key election promise, and one Johnson continues to claim is a commitment of the government.

But data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council shows the number of nurses and midwives coming from the European Economic Area (EEA) that are eligible to work in the UK continues to fall, and has done consecutively for three years.

The total is now 31,385 - down from 38,024 in 2016-17, and a 5% drop based on figures from last year.

Just 913 people from the EEA joined the register last year, with a slowdown in numbers arriving from Romania, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland.

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But there has been a jump in numbers of nurses and midwives coming from outside Europe, with growth from the Philippines and India.

The number on the register now stands at 716,607 - jumping by 18,370 in the last year - the single biggest increase in the total.

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Andrea Sutcliffe, the NMC's chief executive, said: 'While the increased figures from the UK and overseas are very welcome for everyone working in and using health and care services, there are potential stormy waters ahead.

'As a result of the pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions, we may no longer be able to rely on the flow of professionals joining our register from overseas in the same way. Going forwards, the significant growth we've seen recently may not be sustained.'

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, welcomed the overall figures, but warned 'these numbers are a drop in the ocean compared to what the NHS needs in the longer term, as the government recognised when it committed to recruit 50,000 more nurses by the next election'.

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