Comment

Nurse shortage: it looks like the NHS will be relying on overseas staff for years to come

Burnout nurses can’t wait for nursing students to graduate before they see workforce expansion

COVID-19 makes need for extra nurses urgent so foreign recruitment and better staff retention are key to getting the numbers up

Satirical magazine Private Eye is not normally the first place to look for analysis about the NHS nursing workforce.

But the latest issue has found space between its usual stories about cronyism and corruption to report on the NHS idea for boosting its workforce.

The Bringing Back Staff scheme was intended to enable retired health professionals to return to the NHS, as part of last years efforts to maximise staffing in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lacklustre NHS return to practice campaign

The article, drawing from a recent

COVID-19 makes need for extra nurses urgent – so foreign recruitment and better staff retention are key to getting the numbers up

Picture: Daniel Mitchell

Satirical magazine Private Eye is not normally the first place to look for analysis about the NHS nursing workforce.

But the latest issue has found space – between its usual stories about cronyism and corruption – to report on the NHS idea for boosting its workforce.

The Bringing Back Staff scheme was intended to enable retired health professionals to return to the NHS, as part of last year’s efforts to maximise staffing in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lacklustre NHS return to practice campaign

The article, drawing from a recent NHS report reviewing nursing’s response to the pandemic, highlights that the centralised initiative had only been able to get 1,007 nurses back to practice, out of a potential 73,000.

The NHS report acknowledges the approach was ‘slow and clunky’ and contrasted this with more successful schemes that had mobilised nursing students, and redeployed current nurses.

Why we need every nurse we can get – and every nurse we can keep

This matters because, with COVID-19 cases rapidly having increased again, and the vaccination programme being rolled out, we need every nurse we can get.

In addition to the 50,000 nurse staffing increase that the Westminster government has promised, there will be a need to provide cover for nurses who are burnout and require respite.

And the recent good news about the 23% annual increase in new nursing students is positivity deferred – these students will not enter the workforce for several years.

So we need to look at other, quicker, solutions. ‘Returners’ is one – but it appears that Bringing Back Staff has not delivered big numbers.

Government target for nurse numbers relies on retention and overseas recruitment

The Health Foundation’s recent review of how to build the NHS nursing workforce in England, of which I was a co-author, concluded that the 50,000 target can be met, but only by improving staff retention and with continued heavy reliance on international recruitment.

It is therefore no surprise to read that 2,000 nurses from overseas who are currently in the Nursing and Midwifery Council application process will now be fast-tracked on to the temporary register established to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

New year, same old international ‘solution’.


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