Chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) Andrea Sutcliffe reflects on a recent roundtable focused on the experiences of internationally educated nurses in social care, and highlights the importance of ensuring these professionals are appropriately supported and recognised.
“It’s about time the contributions of internationally educated nurses were recognised”. This was the resounding call to action from a nurse at our event, Celebrating and supporting internationally educated nurses in social care. It sounds obvious, given the sector increasingly relies on internationally educated nurses to sustain services. But it’s clear from the lived experience of too many that they are not valued and recognised for their skills, compassion, and talents as they should.
Our event brought together professionals, leaders, and organisations from across the UK social care sector. I was delighted to co-chair alongside Deborah Sturdy, the chief nurse for adult social care in England, and Oonagh Smyth, chief executive of Skills for Care.
Celebrating achievements and highlighting challenges
Coming together was a valuable opportunity to shine a spotlight on what’s going well and where we need to improve for the benefit of both the public and our professionals. There were some lovely stories. Internationally educated nurses shared their passion for working in social care. They described the support they’d received from managers, colleagues, even the local community, to fulfil their dreams. That’s what it takes to make a difference – a collective effort.
But we also heard rising concerns about modern slavery practices, internationally educated nurses being exploited and treated badly. There’s an urgent need to address this and ensure every nurse who travels thousands of miles from home is supported to flourish in the UK.
Ethnic diversity of the social care workforce
Skills for Care data show that around 70,000 people were recruited from outside the UK into direct care-providing roles in 2022–2023 after adult social care was added to the Government’s ‘shortage occupation list’ in February 2022. This is an increase of 50,000 people compared to the previous year. Meanwhile, there are now more than 788,000 nurses, midwives and nursing associates on our register – one in five are internationally educated and are more ethnically diverse than the register as a whole.
As our workforce continues to become more ethnically diverse, it’s vital that all of us in health and social care foster an inclusive, anti-racist and trusting environment in which everyone can thrive and deliver the best care they can for people who use services.
As Oonagh explained: “With this increase in international recruitment it becomes even more important that employers have the knowledge and confidence to make sure people have a positive recruitment and working experience when recruited internationally, and to support them in settling into their new roles and new home.”
And as Deborah pointed out: “This is not just about showing our international colleagues how we do things but learning from each other and gaining fresh perspectives on how we deliver the highest standards of care. We are better for the diversity in our workforce and we should be open and supportive to overseas colleagues in their transition.”
Discrimination faced by international professionals
But this doesn’t always happen. We know Black and minority ethnic staff are more likely to experience bullying, harassment and discrimination than white staff, and are less likely to be appointed or promoted. And we see this in our work at the NMC with Black and minority ethnic professionals disproportionately referred to our fitness to practise processes.
Racism undermines people’s confidence, leaves them insecure, and makes it difficult to ask for help when it’s needed. That’s not the way to treat people who have left their family and friends to work here. And the people who need care may end up suffering as a result.
Concerted efforts to tackle discrimination and bias
We must work together – employers, regulators, professional groups, and partners – to build the right environments, share best practice, and learn from each other.
Throughout our roundtable, I sensed a united ambition for change. The practical suggestions to help deliver that change came tumbling through at the end. At the NMC we’re looking to expand our ‘Welcome to the UK Workforce’ programme, preparing internationally recruited nurses for the cultural and ethical differences of working in the UK, into social care. The Outstanding Society offered their website to showcase good practice. All were determined to make sure that every professional, no matter where they’re from, feels truly valued and supported to deliver the safe, effective and kind care people have the right to expect.
Let’s answer the call and make sure the contributions of internationally educated nurses really are recognised.