Nursing staff shortage— UK-trained nurses have all the incentives to go work abroad

Steve Carufel
4 min readOct 9, 2017

Registered Nurses in the UK earn a much smaller annual median wage than in Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand. The lower cost of living in most of these places also adds up to the picture. No wonder the country is the biggest exporter of nursing professionals among the developed nations.

To be fair, the aging population is and will long be a health care challenge for most developed nations for the next few decades at least. The United Kingdom, like Canada and Australia, has been facing a nation-wide nursing staff shortage for a couple of years already and it is now only expected to worsen: recently, we learned from a Royal College of Nursing report that, for the first time in years, more nursing professionals are leaving than entering the workforce.

Yet, it seems that the UK has no reason to worry less than other nations. The Sunday Times reported this sunday that the country was in need of at least 10,000 mental health nursing positions. The figure is 40,000 for all specializations combined. In the Midlands, 1 out of 10 nursing vacancies in mental health are currently unfilled.

That the UK-trained or -born nursing professionals are often contemplating to move abroad is no news. An OECD report taught us Britain is the largest exporter of nurses among the developed nations. An estimated 50,000 UK-trained nursing professionals is currently working abroad. British nurses are also by far the most numerous group within the migrant nursing workforce from a developed nation in Canada and Australia, separate data shows. It is the same in New Zealand as well.

It is easy to see why after looking at this chart below. It seems that the nurses simply do their research for more fruitful options.

Not only do Registered Nurses earn much more money in absolute monetary terms, but the reduced cost of living in most cases makes it even more easier for them in most other English-speaking countries.

One shall also note that the public health care expenditures figures between countries aren’t necessarily different. In the case of Canada, OECD data shows that the country is employing slightly more nurses per 1,000 inhabitants than the UK since 2010 and is spending a bit less in health care than Britain in comparison to its GDP.

Wage gain, plus a cheaper cost of living in most cases

But speaking of the cost of living, the data in the chart above is a comparison of each countries’ largest city. While comparing London to most other world cities might seem a bit unfair, consider that the cost of rent isn’t the only variable in the equation. For example, food isn’t more expensive there than in Toronto. Other products such as household goods and personal care items are apparently more affordable too.

One could also look not necessarily to move to the biggest or more expensive city neither. As an example, for the second-largest cities of Canada and the UK, Montreal and Birmingham, the picture remained the same: the Canadian city offers a 20% cheaper cost of living — just like Toronto and London (-23%). In Vancouver, the closely second most expensive Canadian city, at least with regards to housing, the cost of living is 24% cheaper than in London. But the wage gain weights much more in the balance anyway.

In addition to the much more generous median salary and a cheaper cost of living, there is not reason to believe than other things like the quality of life and the activities and hobbies outside of work are any less seducing in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada than in Britain, depending on your preferred type of climate.

Without any changes in policy or work conditions, Britain seems unlikely to be able to tackle this issue and retain its educated health care workforce in the next few decades.

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Steve Carufel

Montréalais à @MyBCU en journalisme numérique | Digital journalism student at @MyBCU | Data, Digital stuff, Politics, Human Trends 🐦Frenglish | Franglais🐦