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The morality of overseas recruitment

Marilyn Eveleigh is pleased with the efforts to recruit more nurses but thinks poaching from overseas needs to stop

 

The dire shortage of nurses is the biggest challenge to health services both in and outside the NHS. I’m all for enticing nurses back into practice via return to practice programmes; I support raising the profile of the profession to attract more men; I’m excited by imaginative schemes such as ‘golden hellos’ offering cash incentives to nurses to come work in organisations, repaying student loans in return for taking up a post after qualification and fast-tracking nurses to higher grades where they fill ‘hard to recruit to’ posts. I even consider the new entry routes through nurse apprentices and nursing associates necessary. What I cannot endorse is the aggressive NHS recruitment drive for overseas nurses from countries that have a nursing shortage of their own. It is unethical – we should be growing our own nursing workforce, not poaching from overseas, especially from poorer countries that have invested in training their nurses.

Health secretary Matt Hancock recently announced that we need a ‘new Windrush’ generation to supply us with sufficient nurses and doctors to keep the NHS functioning. Does he not realise there is a global shortage of nurses? Worldwide, there are 20 million of us, but it’s not enough. India and the Philippines are struggling to meet their own needs. The World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted an extra nine million nurses and midwives will be needed by 2030. 

It is understandable that many nurses might want to come to the UK, tempted by higher wages and better working conditions. Yet retention rates are not good, especially outside major cities, with some trusts losing well over 50% of recruits over two years. The government is attracting overseas recruits by depressing the English language proficiency standard, lowering visa fees and reducing the earning threshold to just above £20,000 to remain in the UK. 

The WHO, World Bank and UN have all encouraged countries to develop their own healthcare services with the skilled staff to be self-sufficient. Indeed, UK overseas aid has been directed specifically towards health and prevention programmes. It is ironic and shameful that the UK has not invested adequately in nurse training and retaining a suitable workforce to meet the needs of our population. It costs around £2,500 to recruit a nurse from overseas. I suggest we direct such money into developing our own workforce and avoid the unethical global dilemma we’re in.