The NHS is hiring up to 5,500 'rolling' nurses from India and the Philippines in an attempt to fill understaffed wards. They will work here for two to three years gaining specialist experience and skills before returning back home. The 'earn, learn and return' scheme aims to ease the NHS's staffing crisis whilst also training up developed countries' workforce.
Professor Ian Cumming, chief executive of Health Education England, told MPs it was an 'ethically based' project. He said the first 'cohort' of nurses had arrived from India to work in a hospital in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, and others would follow shortly.
But nursing leaders labelled the scheme a 'sticking plaster' which would do little to solve the NHS's recruitment crisis. Figures show an estimated 40,000 nursing posts are vacant, one in nine of the total. Critics have accused the Government of failing to train up enough home-grown nurses in anticipation of the rising demand, from the ageing population.
Hospitals have already been hiring foreign nurses en masse particularly from Spain, Portugal and the Philippines.
But these recruitment drives have had limited success with many nurses going back to their own country after a few months. This is the first scheme to hire nurses on temporary placements of two to three years to improve their training and experience.
Professor Cumming told MPs on the Health Select Committee said nurses could chose to specialise in departments such as intensive care or A&E.
'We have agreed that 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.
'We have started piloting this with India.
'So the idea is that registered nurses from India would meet the requirements of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, they would come and work in this country in placements that we are facilitating and whilst they were here they would gain postgraduate experience in a particular area – be it intensive care or theatres or emergency medicine or whatever it maybe – whilst working for us.
'At the end of their time here they would return to India, back to the employer they had partnered with, and take that skill set back into the country from which they had come.
'The first pilot cohort are here and they're in Harrogate at the moment and we are aiming to have 500 here by the end of March, building towards the indicative figure of 5,500.
'We believe that doing that way is more ethically robust, in that we aren't denuding a country of their valued resource, but we 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 own country.'
But a spokesman for the Royal College of Nursing said: 'International nurses have always played a key role in the NHS - not least those who have stayed for the remainder of their working life.
'But overseas recruitment of any kind is incapable of plugging the vast gaps the NHS faces. With 40,000 nursing jobs vacant in England alone, this can barely be considered a sticking plaster.'
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