The NHS has been accused of “panic buying” foreign nurses to plug staffing gaps, as new figures reveal that four in five nurses recruited within the last year came from abroad. The scale of foreign recruitment has raised concerns over patient welfare, with questions being asked regarding the language skills of the new recruits. Others have questioned why more is not being done to train nurses in the UK.
In total 5,778 nurses were recruited from abroad last year, as hospitals poured funding into foreign trips for managers and recruitment agencies to enable them to seek new staff, vastly inflating the cost of recruitment to the taxpayer. They have also been offering bonuses to nurses willing to relocate, the Telegraph has reported, in the wake of the Mid Staffs scandal which highlighted a chronic shortfall in nursing levels, severely compromising the care of patients.
The majority of nurses coming to the UK from abroad hailed from Spain, Portugal, the Philippines and Italy. In total, 7,111 new nurses were recruited last year, meaning that the figure makes up 81 percent of nurses hired in England. The figures were uncovered by the Health Service Journal, which also found that in the 12 months to September, 73 percent of NHS hospital trusts had recruited foreign staff, up from 38 percent the previous year.
In total there are now 91,470 nurses registered to work in England who were trained abroad, equivalent to about one in seven of all nurses.
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said “Overseas nurses have always made a valuable contribution to the NHS, but these figures show an astonishing over-reliance.
“The NHS has spent year upon year failing to invest in training UK nurses, leaving posts vacant and trying to manage with too few staff. The last few years have seen real “panic-buying” of nurses from wherever they can be found, in order to keep care safe.”
He added that it was imperative the NHS draw up a long term plan to maintain safe staffing levels, instead of merely “papering over the cracks”.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, showed concern regarding the language skills of the new recruits and questioned whether they fully understood NHS procedures.
“If we do employ nurses from other countries, we must ensure that they are fully qualified and competent to carry out their duties and that they are competent enough in English to effectively communicate with patients,” she said.
“We are concerned that poor English skills may lead to mistakes and misunderstandings when patients are trying to explain their problems.” Her charity has called for further investment and recruitment of UK nurses.
Labour has pinned the blame on the coalition government for cutting 10,000 nurse training places since the election. Ministers have hit back by pointing out that, under EU rules on freedom of labour, nurses from within the EU are free to register to work within England with no checks on their language skills or general competence, something which they have pledged to change.
Meanwhile, Ukip leader Nigel Farage has taken to Facebook to say “While we should be grateful that there are people willing to come and work in our NHS, it speaks volumes as to how successive governments have let down British people aspiring to jobs in healthcare.”
The NHS should be “topped up by foreign labour – not relying upon it”, he insisted, adding that, to this end, Ukip would “scrap tuition fees for people studying STEM subjects, which includes medical degrees”. He also expressed concern over the language capabilities of new staff, saying “UKIP will ensure foreign health service professionals are properly qualified, and are able to speak English to a standard acceptable to the profession.”