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Over 2400 NHS doctors and nurses are foreigners

Main countries of origin of foreign doctors, nurses and operational assistants are Spain, Brazil and Angola.

Photo by Viki Mohamad at Unsplash

Over 2,400 doctors and nurses in the National Health System (Portuguese: Serviço Nacional de Saúde; SNS) are foreigners, as well as 1,312 operational assistants. Most of these workers hail from Spain, Brazil and Angola, according to the latest 2022 statistics from the Observatory for Migrations.


This trend contrasts with what was observed in the first decade of the 21st century when there was a strong presence of professionals from Portuguese-Speaking African Countries (PALOP). Their presence has increasingly been replaced by workers from the European Union, with a focus on the Spanish health care work who represent about one-third of the foreign human resources of the Ministry of Health.


The majority of foreign national human resources in the Ministry of Health over the last decade originated from Spain (33% in 2011, gradually decreasing to 19.6% in 2022), Brazil (13.5% in 2011, increasing gradually to 24.9% in 2022), and Angola (from 8.2% in 2011 to 8.6% in 2022).


In 2021 and 2022, there was an increase in foreign human resources working in the SNS, totaling 3958 in 2021 and 4055 in 2022 (representing 2.7% of the total human resources). This marks a recovery from the decline that had been observed since 2004, the year with the highest number of personnel (4490) and the greatest relative importance in the total human resources of the Ministry of Health (3.5%).


Foreign doctors represented 5.8% in 2021 and 5.6% in 2022 of the total number of doctors in the SNS, while foreign operational assistants represented 4% in 2021 and 4.3% in 2022 of the total number of operational assistants in the SNS. On the other hand, foreign nurses have halved in the last two decades and maintained their relative importance since 2015, representing 1.3% of the nurses in the Ministry of Health.


Foreign human resources in the SNS are primarily doctors, representing 62% of the total in 2015, although thay have lost relative importance in 2022 when they accounted for 43%, totaling 1,729 in 2022. They are followed by foreign operational assistants (1,312 in 2022), foreign nurses (677), and foreign human resources in other professions within the Ministry of Health (337).


The number of foreign operational assistants has significantly increased in the last decade - from 413 in 2011 to 1071 in 2020, 1243 in 2021, and 1312 in 2022 - surpassing since 2019 the number of foreign nurses integrated into the SNS. Meanwhile, the number of foreign medical staff decreased in 2020 to 1256, which was 584 less than the previous year, representing the lowest absolute number of the last decade. However, they recovered in 2021 and 2022, reaching 1747 and 1729, respectively.

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