Spanish nurses fly in to ease NHS crisis

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Dozens of Spanish nurses flew into Britain from Madrid yesterday as part of a pilot scheme to fill acute staff shortages in four hospital trusts in the north-west where posts have been unfilled for at least six months. The pioneering drive was agreed by British and Spanish governments and could include doctors.

Dozens of Spanish nurses flew into Britain from Madrid yesterday as part of a pilot scheme to fill acute staff shortages in four hospital trusts in the north-west where posts have been unfilled for at least six months. The pioneering drive was agreed by British and Spanish governments and could include doctors.

The first contingent of 63 fully qualified nurses arrived in Manchester and headed for contract posts in hospitals in Blackpool, Blackburn, Morecambe and Preston. Twelve others follow shortly and more applicants are being interviewed. This is the first time an area health authority has directly recruited abroad under a government-to-government scheme, without the intermediary of a private agency.

The Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, signed the historic agreement with Spain last November to recruit up to 5,000 nurses to ease Britain's chronic shortages. All the nurses are fully qualified and fluent in English but will undergo a course in technical language used in hospitals before they begin work on the wards.

"The response was overwhelming," said Vivienne Pilkington, head of recruitment and retention of the National Health Executive North-West, who was in Madrid the check the arrangements. "From one advertisement, the message has spread like wildfire by word of mouth. We have been very impressed with the clinical competence and level of English of the nurses we recruited."

Marta Torres, 23, from a small town 50km from Madrid, said she's happy at the prospect of working in Lancaster hospital in Morecambe. "You have to live away from your home for a while, it helps you mature. I'm looking forward to improving my English and my nursing skills."

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