British Nursing Applicants Turned Away as Trusts Spend Billions on Foreign Staff

Reuters/Darren Staples

Two thirds of Britons applying to train as a nurse are being turned away, even as the National Health Service (NHS) is spending “ludicrous” amounts on hiring foreign nurses, the head of the Royal College of Nursing has said.

Dr Peter Carter has claimed that staffing levels in NHS hospitals have reached “crisis” point, forcing hospital bosses to poach foreign staff from across the globe, a practice which he said was both “hugely expensive” and ethically dubious, the Sunday Telegraph has reported.

Last year, 57,000 people applied to train to be a nurse, but 37,000 of those had their applications rejected. Dr Carter said that not all of those turned down “would have been appropriate” but he added: “I can’t believe the majority of them wouldn’t have been fit.”

He blamed a “truly lamentable” lack of planning which caused nurse training placements to be cut by 6,000 a year during the Coalition government to just under 20,000 a year, in order to save money.

But hospitals are having to fill that gap by seeking staff from abroad, and are having to pay huge sums to do so, handing agencies up to £2,200 a shift in some cases. Last year, £3.3 billion was spent by the NHS on agency nurses alone, while the number of foreign nurses registering for work in Britain rose by 29 percent, up from 11 percent five years ago.

About 7,500 nurses came from EU countries, mostly Spain, Portugal and Italy, whilst a further 700 were recruited from further afield, mostly the Phillipines.

Hospital trusts are also having to spend up to £12,000 per nurse recruited in some cases, as hospitals dispatched teams of recruiters abroad to stay in hotels while they sought out workers. 73 percent of trusts recruited from abroad last year, twice as many as the year before.

“NHS trust after trust is recruiting heavily,” Dr Carter said. “Countries like Portugal, Spain and the Republic of Ireland have been exhausted. There is an ethical and a moral issue here. The UK, despite our financial issues, is one of the wealthiest countries in the world,” .

“We cut our training programmes to save money but we are going off to India, Africa and the Philippines to recruit nurses they have trained and can ill afford to lose. I don’t feel good about going to a developing country and nicking their nurses.”

He has called on the government to provide funding for a further 3,000 nurse training placements. 

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