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Recruiting overseas nurses not a long-term solution, health minister warns

Lord Prior of Brampton lauds the contribution of overseas nurses, but warns that they are not a permanent solution for the UK's nursing shortages

Overseas nurses are exceptionally wonderful but recruiting from abroad is not a permanent solution to tackling the countrys nursing shortages, health minister Lord Prior of Brampton told a debate in the House of Lords.

Speaking during a House of Lords debate on NHS and immigration rules, parliamentary under-secretary of state Lord Prior addressed a question asked by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.

Lord Hunt asked about the governments response to the RCN report on the impact that immigration rules will have on the employment of foreign nurses within the NHS.

The colleges report says changes to immigration rules, due to come into effect in April next year, will exacerbate the shortage of nurses in the UK and cost the NHS millions.

Migrant workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will need to earn 35,000 or more if they want to stay in the UK for

Overseas nurses are ‘exceptionally wonderful’ but recruiting from abroad is not a permanent solution to tackling the country’s nursing shortages, health minister Lord Prior of Brampton told a debate in the House of Lords.

Speaking during a House of Lords debate on NHS and immigration rules, parliamentary under-secretary of state Lord Prior addressed a question asked by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.

Lord Hunt asked about the government’s response to the RCN report on the impact that immigration rules will have on the employment of foreign nurses within the NHS.

The college’s report says changes to immigration rules, due to come into effect in April next year, will exacerbate the shortage of nurses in the UK and cost the NHS millions.

Migrant workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will need to earn £35,000 or more if they want to stay in the UK for longer than six years. Those who do not qualify will be ordered to leave.

It estimates that up to 3,365 nurses who have been working in the UK since April 2011 might be required to leave in 2017.

At RCN congress in Bournemouth last week, 99% of members voted for the government to withdraw the plans.

Lord Hunt asked whether the government is confident the gap that will be left after the overseas nurses are ‘forced to leave’ will be filled given the current recruitment crisis, the extra nurses needed for seven-day working, the extra nurses needed to improve nurse-to-patient ratios and the fact that the government wants to reduce agency spend.

Lord Prior responded by saying the UK had recruited some ‘exceptionally wonderful nurses’ from abroad, such as the Philippines, but said it is not a good long-term strategy to rely on overseas recruitment.

He said that in addition to increasing nurse training places in the UK over the next four years, another focus should be on tackle nursing student attrition rates.

Lord Prior added that in the aftermath of the Francis report into failings at Mid Staffs, there has been a spike in demand for nurses, which has caused short-term difficulties, such as increased agency spend.

‘It is worth pointing out that last year 3,500 nurses – largely from the Philippines – came from overseas to this country. In the short term, that provides an escape – a way out, if you like, but it is not a permanent solution,’ he said.

Responding to his comments, RCN general secretary Peter Carter repeated the college’s call for nurses to be added to the shortage occupation list and for the government to reconsider the £35,000 salary threshold.

‘These illogical immigration rules for health care workers will cause chaos for the NHS and other care services who are already struggling to hire and retain skilled health professionals,’ he said.

‘The government is right that training more home grown nursing staff is part of the long term solution but too few nurses are currently being trained and it will take time for them to come through the system.’

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