COVID-19: NHS recruits nurses from abroad to fill staff shortages

Employers have been told to review staffing and recruit internationally as Omicron surge puts health system under pressure
Overseas recruited nurses

Employers have been told to review staffing and recruit internationally as Omicron surge puts health system under pressure

Photo: Neil O'Connor

NHS bosses in England have been told to ramp up plans to recruit international nurses as trusts face a surge in staff absences while Omicron cases continue to rise.

While staff battle to accelerate the booster programme, tackle the non-COVID backlog and deal with high levels of sickness due to COVID-19, NHS England has directed hospitals to review their workforce capacity over the next three months to ensure ‘essential services can be maintained’.

Struggling to increase the supply of nurses in a system under strain

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard wrote to all clinical commissioning groups, trusts, community healthcare leaders and primary care networks on 13 December, directing them to ‘accelerate recruitment plans… and where possible bringing forward the arrival of internationally recruited nurses’.

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said bosses were ‘pulling out all the stops’ to increase the supply of nursing recruits, adding it was critical that newly qualified and international nurses are supported when they join the NHS.

‘Employers will continue to look at all options to recruit and retain, but we need to be realistic that the next few weeks are going to be challenging if we continue to see a spike in COVID cases among our workforce, leading to higher levels of short-term absences,’ he said.

International intake is a short-term solution, professor says

However, bringing forward the arrival of international nurses is a move that University of Edinburgh visiting professor and Nursing Standard columnist James Buchan called a ‘quick fix’.

‘If the focus is only on rapidly increasing numbers of nurses, then we are bound to see an even bigger upsurge from the current historically high number of international nurse registrants that are coming on the UK register,’ he said.

Nursing and Midwifery Council data shows that from April to September 2021 almost 10,000 new nurses entered the register with an international qualification, mainly from India, the Philippines and Nigeria.

In London, staff absences linked to COVID-19 were up 140% from 1,900 on 12 December to 4,700 on 16 December, according to NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson. He said some hospital trusts are having to postpone non-essential activities.

Further information

Preparing the NHS for the potential impact of the Omicron variant and other winter pressures

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