Dilemma over foreign nurses

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IT is important that concerns about the recruitment of a further 6,000 foreign nurses to English hospitals are placed in wider perspective and do not become inflamed by the contentious debate about immigration levels. Overseas workers, whether highly-trained medical professionals or ancillary staff like cleaners and porters, have always been integral to the success of the National Health Service.

This contribution should never be taken for granted and staff shortages in the NHS would be even more pronounced this winter if hospitals were not able to hire nurses from Spain, Portugal and the Philippines for example.

However it is not the fault of the hospitals concerned that they have had to look overseas for staff in such numbers, even though the Department of Health says pointedly that “individual trusts are responsible for planning and recruiting their workforce”. The problem rests with the number of training places funded by the Government is failing to keep pace with the need for additional hospital staff because they are treating a record number of patients.

Though the Government is training 1,000 additional nurses this year, it is clear that Ministers may need to increase numbers still further and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt needs to recognise this. After all, it does take time and money to train nurses to a requisite standard and it is Mr Hunt’s misfortune that years of “lamentable workforce planning”, the central charge lodged by the Royal College of Nursing yesterday, have come to a head on his watch.

As such, it is the Minister’s duty to put in place a robust plan that addresses these shortages while also compelling hospitals to ensure that overseas medical practitioners have a solid command of the English language. It is the very least that patients deserve in the meantime if confidence is to be maintained.

Justice at a price

Ten years to clear Iraq soldiers

IN the wake of the CIA report about waterboarding and America’s interrogation techniques during the “war on terror”, there will be widespread relief that the allegations of murder and torture levelled against British troops following the now infamous Battle of Danny Boy in Iraq were the product of “deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility”.

Nevertheless, it is still a matter of concern that the ”tactical questioning” of detainees did, in some instances, fall short of the standards expected of the Armed Forces – this included the blindfolding of nine prisoners and some misguided soldiers then posing for photos with detainees. This was likened to “tasteless trophies” by inquiry chairman Sir Thayne Forbes.

However, while Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said such occurrences were unacceptable, they were relatively minor in comparison to the more serious charges which amounted to little more than a shameful attempt to use Britain’s legal system to undermine the reputation of those soldiers who showed exemplary courage to defeat insurgents.

Some further context is required to this battle which took place in May 2004. These events preceded the Athens Olympics. Yet it has taken a decade, and a judge-led inquiry that has cost taxpayers £24.5m and counting, to establish the truth and exonerate those soldiers whose reputations were so impugned by unsubstantiated allegations of war crimes. Like the Chilcot Inquiry which will not now be published until after the election, there have to be swifter and more effective ways of reconciling such matters for the sake of all concerned.

The history girl

Church sees the light – at last

HOW FITTING that York Minster will be the setting next month for a moment of ecclesiastical history when the Reverend Libby Lane will be consecrated as the first female Church of England bishop.

York, after all, is one of the dioceses where the history-maker began her pastoral work and her ordination will be carried out with alacrity by Dr John Sentamu who has been a tireless advocate of female bishops. When this battle appeared to have been lost two years ago, he drew great comfort from the spiritual counsel of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said: “Be comforted. It will come.”

The anti-apartheid campaigner, now fighting prostate cancer, was right and the Church of England did finally see sense when the General Synod belatedly voted to start writing a new chapter in its history.

Could it be that York has its very first female archbishop within a generation? It is not beyond the realms of possibility now that the Church has finally seen the light.