At least a third of hospital trusts in England have turned to actively recruiting nurses from overseas as they struggle to keep wards adequately staffed, an investigation has found.
Workforce experts say the findings are proof of the start of a new NHS registered nurse shortage, which has led some trusts to recruit dozens of nurses from across Europe and further afield, according to Nursing Times.
Of the 105 acute trusts that responded to a Freedom of Information request by the publication, 40 had actively recruited nurses from overseas in the last 12 months – leading to more than 1,360 nurses coming to work in England.
A further 41 hospital trusts said they planned to recruit nurses from overseas in the next 12 months.
The investigation follows growing documentary evidence from trusts that nurse managers were being sent to recruitment fairs in Europe. Nottingham University Hospitals Trust currently has around 200 nurse vacancies. Maria Bentley, who oversees recruitment, said: “We are definitely in the midst of a nursing shortage.
“It has become more acute over the last year but it’s been going in a general direction over the last couple of years. In the last six months we are just not getting applicants [for vacancies].”
She said her trust had recruited 30 nurses from Portugal and had plans to return there before Christmas.
Weston Area Health Trust in Somerset has recruited 39 Spanish nurses to work at its hospital. Trust director of nursing Christine Perry said: “The most safe and practical solution for us was to go abroad and recruit internationally. I think across the NHS, international recruitment will have to continue.”
Spain and Portugal have proved the most popular countries targeted by trusts seeking nurses. Overall 29 nations have contributed nurses to the UK health service.
The 40 trusts recruited a total of 503 nurses from Portugal, 472 from Spain, 155 from Ireland and 111 from the Philippines. In addition, 32 nurses have come from Italy and around a dozen each from India, Greece and Poland. Smaller numbers have also come from Australia, Canada, the US and Switzerland.
The findings follow repeated reductions in the number of education places, which have fallen by 2,500 in the three years between 2010 and 2013.
Professor Jim Buchan, from the School of Health at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University, said: “What we are seeing is trusts resorting to the quick fix of international recruitment because they are not able to rapidly resource nurses from the local labour market.”
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, responding to the study, said: “This is symptomatic of the short term, boom and bust workforce planning which is endemic in the NHS.
“It is frankly perplexing that on the one hand nursing posts are being cut and training places being reduced, while on the other desperate managers are raiding overseas workforces.
“Many nurses are reaching retirement age, while student nurse places are being reduced. Add to this the growing demands of an ageing population and it is clear that poor workforce planning has landed the NHS in a crisis, and it is patient care which is suffering.”