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Overseas recruitment seen as key in tackling NHS workforce crisis

Overseas recruitment seen as key in tackling NHS workforce crisis
By Jess Hacker
8 November 2022

Exclusive A hospital in Somerset has recruited more than 2,000 nurses from overseas with staff deployed across primary and secondary services in the county, Healthcare Leader can reveal.

Led by Yeovil District Hospital, the ongoing campaign has seen staff recruited from the United Arab Emirates, Oman, India and the Philippines, since 2018.

It comes as England reached the ‘peak’ of its nursing shortage this year, with as many as 40,365 nurses leaving active service in the year to June 2022, or one-in-nine.

The nurses are hired into various areas of the health and care community, including acute hospitals, care homes, and community hospitals, Somerset ICB confirmed to Healthcare Leader.

Yeovil District Hospital manages the end-to-end process – from interviews to deployment – virtually via Zoom and through ‘in-country recruitment events’ to ensure candidates are able to reach the hospital easily.

The hospital is responsible for international recruitment for most NHS organisations and care homes in Somerset, and manages the process on behalf of the service being recruited for. It also supports more than 15 other trusts around the country.

Other trusts around the country also have overseas recruitment drives, however these operate on a much smaller scale.

Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals’ international recruitment programme – which has been running for three years – has seen 200 international nurses from Australia, India and the Philippines join as permanent members of staff in specialist clinical areas.

So far this year, the drive in Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – facilitated by a recruitment partner – has seen 128 registered nurses hired, with 7 anaesthetic practitioners appointed and awaiting deployment.

And since April 2021, East Kent Hospitals has recruited 474 international nurses through its programme.

Workforce data shows that international recruitment makes up over a third (34%) of the NHS nursing workforce in England as of 2021, up from 18% of the workforce in 2015.

Speaking to Healthcare Leader, Somerset ICB chief executive Jonathan Higman said recruitment in the area has been ‘the biggest challenge’ since the Board gained statutory footing in July.

He said: ‘We often have good solutions, but the challenge is of course always: “Where are we going to get the people from?” So to answer that we’ve had quite an active overseas international recruitment process, developed out of Yeovil District Hospital. Historically, it was focused on Dubai, because they train international nurses.’

The ICB also confirmed it was looking at recruiting into its community nursing services, but this has been more challenging as candidates need to be able to drive in the UK.

And in Yorkshire and Humber, chief executive Professor Stephen Eames said the ICB and NHS England were looking to recruit staff from Kerala, an Indian state.

Starmer claims NHS recruits ‘too many people from overseas’

Overseas recruitment hit the headlines this weekend as Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC he believes the UK is recruiting too many people from overseas into the NHS.

He argued that immigration was not the solution to the staffing crisis, calling for greater efforts to recruit from within the UK.

He said: ‘We don’t want open boarders, freedom of movement has gone and it’s not coming back. So that means fair rules, firm rules: a points-based system.

‘What I would like to see is the numbers go down in some areas. I think we’re recruiting too many people from overseas into, for example, the health service. But on the other hand, if we need high-skilled people in innovation in tech to set up factories etc, then I would encourage that.’

However, Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: ‘Our severely understaffed NHS relies on dedicated people from all over the world bringing skills and experience to deliver high-quality care to patients.’

She added: ‘We must invest in expanding the number of staff recruited within the UK alongside valued colleagues from abroad if we are to tackle long-standing gaps in the medical workforce and record high vacancies across health and care services. The Government urgently needs to prioritise a fully funded, long-term workforce plan for the NHS. Without it, severe staff shortages will keep on piling pressure on already overstretched services and affect patient care.’

And Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers part of the NHS Confederation said: ‘The NHS has a diverse and talented workforce made up of staff from both the UK and abroad. The growing numbers of staff being recruited from overseas in recent years however speaks to the lack of investment in educating and training healthcare staff in the UK. 

‘With 132,000 vacancies currently in the NHS and against a backdrop of increasing pressures on their people and services, the Government must set out a fully costed workforce plan to recruit and retain NHS staff without delay.’

The DHSC does not recruit NHS staff directly but does oversee the 50,000 Nurses Programme, which focuses on international and domestic recruitment. It also maintains a Code of Practice for international recruitment.

In August, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned that the Government’s overseas recruitment guidelines are a step in the right direction but lack clarity over how they will be enforced, leaving recruits at the mercy of ‘rogue employers’.

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