One in five of the UK’s entire health and social care workforce were born outside the home nations, official figures show.
Analysis from the think-tank Nuffield Trust found there are currently 818,000 foreign-born health workers in the UK.
The review is the first to include staff who have adopted UK nationality but were born elsewhere.
Its authors say it proves how the NHS would collapse without the contributions from these workers.
The analysis, based on data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), revealed the health service is becoming increasingly reliant on immigrants.
One in four NHS hospital staff were born outside the UK, official figures show (stock image)
People who were born abroad make up 23 per cent of hospital workers, including doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants.
And they make up 19 per cent of the health and social care workforce, compared to 14 per cent of the general population.
The report revealed the NHS has increasingly turned to foreign-born workers to plug staffing shortages in the last ten years.
Nursing shortage ‘is forcing NHS to rely on less qualified staff’ to plug gaps as figures show 44,000 job posts are empty
The NHS is relying on less qualified staff to plug workforce gaps due to a huge shortage of nurses, analysis by an independent think-tank has revealed.
The Health Foundation warned there were currently 44,000 vacancies in England, 12 per cent of the entire nursing workforce.
It said that, if current trends continue, the number could surge to 100,000 within a decade, posing a serious threat to patient care.
The analysis found jobs normally carried out by trained nurses are being done by support staff who have been forced to pick up the slack amid the crisis.
It also revealed the NHS is becoming dependent on foreign nurses from outside the EU, on the back of the Brexit vote.
In 2018 alone, NHS England hired more nurses from India (1,791) than Wales, and more from the Philippines (3,118) than Scotland.
The health and social care workforce grew by 446,000 between 2009/10 and 2018/19, with 221,000 of these workers born overseas, accounting for 50 per cent of the rise.
Last year the number of foreign nurses coming to work in Britain doubled, including 1,791 from India, and 3,118 from the Philippines. The Conservatives have pledged to increase the number of nurses by 50,000 over the next five years, including 12,500 nurses from abroad.
The NHS is struggling with a 44,000 shortfall in nurses, and experts warn there could be a shortage of 100,000 nursing staff within a decade.
Mark Dayan, policy analyst at the Nuffield Trust, said: ‘This analysis reveals just how international the NHS truly is, and that without migration staffing shortages would be almost unimaginable.
‘The Conservatives and Labour have made encouraging assurances to enable some foreign NHS staff to arrive after we leave the EU. But these pledges will fall flat if not matched with promises to recruit social care staff from abroad and expanded to other vital NHS staff beyond hospital nurses and doctors.
‘With the NHS continuing to be a top priority for voters, restricting migration could backfire spectacularly given we already have dire shortages and more staff are desperately needed.’
Miriam Deakin, director of NHS Providers, said: ‘This analysis makes it clear how much we depend on and value people born outside of the UK or who are recruited internationally to adequately staff health and care services and deliver high-quality care to patients.
‘We should absolutely praise the dedication and commitment of these staff who are working under intense levels of pressure day in and day out.
‘There are over 105,000 vacancies across the trust sector alone. Both in the NHS and the social care sector, any solution to reducing these vacancies will continue to rely on overseas recruitment.
‘It will be several years before domestic supply increases enough to help close the gap.
‘That is why any future immigration system post-Brexit must protect the ability of health and care services to recruit from overseas.’