Health Education England recruiting overseas nurses on 'earn, learn and return' scheme

The NHS is employing overseas nurses as part of a programme to help plug staffing shortages, it has emerged.
Overseas nurses

The NHS is employing overseas nurses as part of a programme to help plug staffing shortages, it has emerged.

  • 5,500 international nurses will be recruited as part of the programme
  • First pilot cohort of nurses from India under way in Harrogate, North Yorkshire
  • Talks over a similiar scheme with the Philippines
  • RCN claims it is no more than a 'sticking plaster' for huge staffing gaps
Overseas nurses
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Nurses from India have been brought over to England to work for a fixed period while learning a new postgraduate skill, Health Education England (HEE) chief executive Ian Cumming said.

He told the Commons health committee that a pilot study into the scheme is already taking place in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

Talks under way to initiate a similar scheme with the Philippines

HEE hopes that 500 nurses from India will come to England under the scheme by the end of March and eventually 5,500 international nurses will be recruited as part of the programme.

Talks are under way to initiate a similar scheme with the Philippines, Professor Cumming said.

The aim of the 'ethically robust' programme would mean that the NHS in England was not taking a valued resource away from another country.

He added that it would 'help us with a staffing shortage that we have got'.

Aim to bring in about 5,500 nurses into the country internationally

Professor Cumming told MPs: 'One of the challenges we have had historically is that individual NHS employers have sought to plug some of the gaps they have through initiatives to recruit overseas, some of which have been successful, some of which have not.

'We have agreed that we are currently aiming to bring somewhere in the region of 5,500 nurses into the country internationally on an ethically-based "earn, learn and return" programme.

'We have started by piloting this with India.

'The idea is that registered nurses from India would meet the requirements of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, they would come and work in this country in placements that we are facilitating, and while they are here they would gain postgraduate experience in a particular area – be it intensive care or theatres or emergency medicine – while working for us.

'At the end of their time here they would return to India, back to the employer they had partnered with, and take that skill set back into the country from which they had come.

'The first pilot cohort are here and they're in Harrogate at the moment and we are aiming to have 500 here by the end of March, building towards the indicative figure of 5,500.

'Doing it this way is more ethically robust'

'We believe that doing it this way is more ethically robust, in that we aren't denuding a country of their valued resource, but allowing people to come here for a fixed period of time to help us with a staffing shortage that we have got, but also to learn, earn money and take that back into their own country.

'We have an initiative with India but we are also looking at establishing a similar initiative with the Philippines.'

Details of the pilot scheme come after International Council of Nurses interim chief executive Thomas Kearns, speaking exclusively to Nursing Standard, urged Western nations to take an 'ethical approach' to overseas recruitment.

He told the committee that the substantively employed registered nurses in the NHS has gone up by 14,000 in the past five years.

But he added: 'I am not saying that we don't have a shortage of nurses at the moment, because we absolutely do have a shortage of nurses in substantive employment in the NHS.

'In the same time that the number of nurses in employment has gone up, our demand for nurses has also gone up.

'So we have a large number of vacancies for nurses at the moment, which is somewhere in the region of 35,000 vacant posts for nurses at the moment in the NHS.'

No more than a 'sticking plaster'

Commenting on the session, an RCN spokesperson said: 'International nurses have always played a key role in the NHS – not least those who have stayed for the remainder of their working life.

'But overseas recruitment of any kind is incapable of plugging the vast gaps the NHS faces. With 40,000 nursing jobs vacant in England alone, this can barely be considered a sticking plaster.

'Such schemes are important and beneficial to the global nursing workforce but the partner country must recognise this achievement on their return.'

Working to improve retention of staff

Meanwhile, the committee was told that 53 NHS trusts are working with NHS Improvement to improve retention of nursing staff.

Health minister Philip Dunne said: 'The whole of the NHS is under considerable pressure… I do recognise that our nursing staff are also under considerable pressure.

'That's why we're seeking to relieve that pressure in a number of different ways, not least in recruiting more nurses into the system over the short, medium and longer term, and looking to find new routes into nursing and new models of care to spread the load across the entire workforce in the NHS.'

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