A shortage of British-trained nurses is forcing NHS hospital trusts to look for staff overseas as they struggle to keep wards adequately staffed.
At least 40 of the 105 hospital trusts in England that responded to a Freedom of Information request by Nursing Times have actively recruited staff from abroad in the past 12 months. A further 41 trusts said they planned to recruit nurses from overseas in the next 12 months.
Nearly 1,000 of the 1,360 recent recruits from overseas came from Spain and Portugal. Many trusts have sent nursing managers to recruitment fairs on the Continent.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, 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.”
Nottingham University Hospitals Trust currently has around 200 vacancies for nurses. 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.”
She blamed competition for staff from private and community providers, large numbers of nurses approaching retirement and a lack of training places.
Spain and Portugal have proved the most popular countries targeted by trusts seeking nurses. The 40 trusts recruited a total of 503 nurses from Portugal, 472 from Spain, 155 from Ireland and 111 from the Philippines.