The number of nurses recruited in the last year from abroad has risen significantly, according to new figures which sparked warnings that the NHS has become “astonishingly over-reliant” on foreign labour.
Nurse leaders accused hospitals of “panic-buying” overseas workers at great expense to plug staff shortages, while patients groups raised fears that care is being compromised by nurses with poor command of English.
Data from 103 English NHS hospital trusts show that 5,778 nurses were recruited from overseas in the 12 months to September, with the largest numbers coming from Spain, Portugal, the Phillipines and Italy.
This compares with a figure of just 1,360 reported by 40 trusts in the previous year.
The investigation by Health Service Journal found that in the 12 months ending in September, 73 per cent of NHS hospital trusts recruited staff from abroad, compared with 38 per cent the year before.
Experts said a lack of trained British nurses meant hospitals were forced to hunt abroad for trained staff, with the costs of global trawls vastly inflating the cost of recruitment.
Hospitals pay managers and recruitment agencies to go abroad to seek out staff, while offering bonuses to nurses who come here.
In total, 91,470 nurses – around one in seven of those now registered to work here – trained overseas, official figures show.
Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the RCN 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 said the NHS needed to draw up a long term plan to maintain safe staffing levels, instead of “papering over the cracks”.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said too many nurses were recruited despite poor language skills and a lack of understanding of 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.”
The charity called for more investment and recruitment of UK nurses.
The figuresshow 1,925 nurses registered to work here from Spain, along with 1,240 from Portugal, 567 from Philippines and 566 from Italy.
Fourteen trusts each recruited more than 100 nurses from overseas, with King’s College Hospital Foundation Trust recruiting the most, with 276.
Labour blamed the Coalition for making cuts to 10,000 nurse training places since the election.
Under EU rules on freedom of labour, around three-quarters of nurses from overseas are allowed to register to work in this country without any checks on their language or competence.
Ministers have pledged to change the rules, so that regulators can test such skills in future.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Individual trusts are responsible for planning and recruiting their workforce, but it is important to note that overseas nurses have always made a valuable contribution to the NHS.”
Number of foreign nurses surges
Posted on December 28, 2014