The NHS is to hire 5,500 nurses from India and the Philippines in a desperate bid to plug staff shortages, health officials have said.
The mass recruitment exercise follows an increase in the number of UK graduates abandoning the profession, and a sharp drop in the number of nurses coming to work in Britain from the EU.
It comes as the Health Secretary sparked fury by signalling that reforms to NHS pay for nurses and midwives could be modelled along the lines of controversial changes to contracts for junior doctors.
Jeremy Hunt said a “more professional pay structure” was required for more than 1 million workers, who can currently get rates of up to 60 per cent more pay for weekend shifts.
Mr. Hunt said the government was not aiming to reduce the pay bill and would continue to pay a higher rate for weekend work. But he suggested the contract introduced for junior doctors after a bitter dispute could be a model for a new deal pay for other workers, describing it as “quite a sensible one”.
Officials from Health Education England yesterday revealed plans to hire 5,500 nurses from India and the Philippines, with 500 nurses due to be recruited from overseas by March.
Professor Ian Cumming, chief executive of the body, said the plans were “ethically based” as nurses from overseas would receive training in the UK, and given placements on the basis that they would return to their home countries with new skills.
Patients groups last night expressed concern about the plans, describing them as “desperate measures” and said longer term action was needed to boost numbers trained in the UK.
The NHS has already embarked on efforts to find 5,000 GPs from overseas in an attempt to address growing shortages of family doctors.
Mr Cumming told the Commons health select committee: “We are currently aiming to bring somewhere in the region of 5,500 nurses into the country internationally on an ethically based ‘earn, learn and return’ programme.”
The first pilot of nurses has now arrived from India, with a total of 500 staff due by March, he said, with plans to establish a similar initiative with the Philippines, he said.
Prof. Cumming said the fixed-term placements would help the NHS to cope with its lack of nurses, while helping overseas countries in the long-term.
He told MPs: “We believe that doing it that way is more ethically robust. We aren’t denuding a country of their valued resource but we are allowing people to come here for a fixed period of time. Yes to help us with a staffing shortage that we have got, but also to learn to earn money and to take that back into their country.”
Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, said: “We do need more staff but I have grave doubts about whether this is the way to go about it.
“These kind of exercises are a desperate short-term measure, which can result in language difficulties, and nurses having to get familiar with new systems, when we should be making longer-term plans, and training up enough nurses in this country,” she said.
In an interview with Health Service Journal, Mr Hunt said the priority was to reform a system of “increments” which mean pay is linked to time served, rather than performance.
But he suggested that the controversial deal introduced for junior doctors – which sparked rows over weekend rates – was “quite a sensible one”.
Last night the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) reacted with fury.
Jon Skewes, from the RCM said NHS staff should not be expected to “fund their own pay increase”.
“Last week’s Budget was helpful on funding, but the Secretary of State, by citing the junior doctor’s dispute, has blundered,” he said.
“We think the pay structure could be improved but we will not be prepared to reduce the fair compensation that midwives and other staff in the NHS receive for providing a service that is there every day, every night, every weekend, every bank holiday, every Christmas holiday.”
A spokesman for the RCN said: “Jeremy Hunt is in danger of repeating the junior doctors row if he deploys the same tactics.
“The RCN will not accept the Government’s productivity argument as a condition of a pay rise and we will not support any reduction in terms and conditions.” (via Telegraph UK)