Expert advice

The nurse shortage solution we cannot ignore

With a collapse in recruitment from the European Union, reliance on overseas nurses from other countries is already happening

With a collapse in recruitment from the European Union, reliance on overseas nurses from other countries is already happening

Picture shows a group of overseas nurses, with a young woman smiling in the foreground. The article says the international recruitment solution cannot be ignored.
Picture: iStock

What do curry chefs and registered nurses have in common?

Different skills, but both are in short supply, and both have been the subject of UK employer-led lobbying to ease immigration rules.

A tabloid newspaper reported that curry houses are closing at the rate of two a week because of a shortage of chefs, and that home secretary Priti Patel is to introduce ‘vindaloo visas’ to save the nation’s curry houses.

New ‘streamlined’ experience for overseas nurses coming to the UK

A few days later, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) announced that it will attempt to address nursing shortages across the UK by providing a ‘streamlined experience’ to overseas nurses applying to join the UK register.

Changes will include an online, rather than paper, application process, and a redesigned guidance page on the NMC website. The aim is to make the UK ‘an attractive option’ for those coming from abroad.

The changes come just weeks after the UK government dropped its language test requirement for overseas nurses, meaning applicants now only need to meet the NMC’s language requirements.

Government departments and regulators are pulling out all the stops to encourage and welcome immigrant workers.

Not a predictable move in the febrile atmosphere of Brexit but needs must – with latest NHS figures showing there are more than 43,000 nurse vacancies in the NHS in England alone, the international recruitment solution cannot be ignored.

Switch to non-EU recruitment is clear

Latest figures from the NMC show we are already seeing big growth in non-European Union (EU) recruitment, mainly of nurses from the Philippines and India. There were more than 6,000 new nurse registrants from non-EU countries in 2018-19, which is more than double the number for the previous year.

In the meantime, the flow of nurses from the EU has collapsed, crashing from a pre-Brexit vote peak of more than 9,000 in 2016 to fewer than 1,000 in 2018-19.

While Brexit plays out, the UK switch to reliance on non-EU international nurses has already happened.


James Buchan is professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh


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