Funding worth £28m is being made available in England to quickly “accelerate” the recruitment of nurses from overseas, following a period of inactivity due to the coronavirus pandemic. Half of the money is dedicated to supporting the arrival to the country of nurses who have already been appointed from abroad.
The other half is to fund a “significant expansion” of future overseas nurse recruitment for the remaining of 2020-21. The plans were outlined in a letter seen by Nursing Times from chief nursing officer for England, Ruth May, to regional directors of nursing across the country.
The outbreak of Covid-19 had led to the majority of international nurse recruitment activity being paused. In the letter, Ms May (pictured above) said these “markets” were now beginning to reopen, with some nurses having travelled from abroad to the UK to join the NHS in recent weeks.
“There is, therefore, a real opportunity to accelerate the recruitment and arrival of international nurses,” she said. There are currently more than 6,500 international nurses recruited waiting to come to England. Ms May said a £14m financial package was being made available to help get these nurses into the NHS.
Examples given for what the money could be spent on included flights, quarantine periods, accommodation and training to prepare nurses to join the Nursing and Midwifery Council register.
A further £14m is being offered to help trusts recruit additional international nurses in 2020-21.
Trusts are being encouraged to take a collaborative approach by partnering up with neighbour organisations and working “at scale to recruit, induct and provide pastoral support”. The money is also intended to help trusts “develop a new pipeline of overseas nurses and diversify the intake of nurses from a range of countries”.
“The NHS People Plan has underlined our ongoing commitment to international nurse recruitment,” said Ms May in the letter.
“I, therefore, ask that you, directors of nursing, review and ramp up your international recruitment plans and activity in the next few weeks and also ensure you have an effective plan to get those overseas nurses that you have already appointed to the UK in the coming weeks and months.”
In addition, as part of the wider international recruitment programme, Ms May said a new English language “offer” would be put in place this year to help overseas nurses working in healthcare support worker (HSCW) roles in the UK achieve NMC nurse registration.
While Ms May flagged the need to follow ethical recruitment practices, concerns have still be raised about the implications of raiding other countries for nurses at the time of a global pandemic.
Susan Masters, director of nursing policy and public affairs for the Royal College of Nursing, said: “We want the UK to be attractive to our international colleagues, who we value and can learn from. “However, we should not be over-reliant on international nursing staff as this is not sustainable,” she said.
“Any strategy for short-term international recruitment must be aligned with a strategy for longer term growth in the domestic nursing workforce. “It is essential that any reciprocal agreements between the UK and other countries are ethical and that the nursing profession in that country agrees with the approach being taken.”
Professor Judith Ellis, a nurse and chair of the Tropical Health and Education Trust, a charity which has previously raised concerns about the UK’s recruitment methods, said she recognised the need for the UK to look overseas for nurses and that the principles laid out by Ms May “appear to be helpful”.
However, she warned: “This is about recognising that international recruitment must not come at the expense of low- and middle-income countries that can at any time, not just when we are all facing a pandemic, ill afford to lose health workers.
“Ethical international recruitment to the NHS must bring benefit not just to the NHS and the people involved, but also to the countries that have trained and educated them.”
She told Nursing Times it was “imperative” that the commitments made in the 2020-21 NHS People Plan to recruit ethically from overseas were “delivered and independently assessed”. Rebecca Smith, managing director of NHS Employers, welcomed the additional support laid out in the letter from Ms May.
“This will aid the infrastructure for employers to recruit internationally, which continues to be vital, along with the recent funding for apprenticeships to grow our domestic pipeline, which will take longer to come to fruition," she told Nursing Times.
“We would also stress that we take ethical international recruitment extremely seriously and we will continue to work with employers and agencies to support them to adhere to guidelines in this area.” In the letter, Ms May also announced funding of £1.7m for regional nursing teams to recruit more HCSWs.
She said empty HCSW posts needed to be significantly reduced or, where possible, completely filled ahead of the winter. These efforts would be supported by a national HCSW recruitment campaign, as well as tailored support for trusts with the highest vacancy rates, said Ms May.
She also highlighted the need to continue to utilise those nurses on the NMC’s temporary register to manage the ongoing pandemic and to support the return of non-Covid-19 services. Out of 13,000 nurses and midwives who had signed up to the temporary coronavirus register, 6,000 had completed the checks required to practise. Those who wanted to stay on the register permanently should be supported to do so, added Ms May.
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