NHS managers enjoyed luxury stays in top hotels and spas, while attempting to recruit nurses from abroad.
Despite taxpayers’ money being spent on the foreign jaunts, only one in four of the new nurses stayed in their jobs for more than a few months.
An investigation by The Telegraph newspaper found that some of the trips cost up to £100,000, with senior NHS staff travelling to destinations including Greece, Spain, Portugal, Romania, Italy and India.
160 NHS trusts across England admitted to 96 overseas trips in 2013/2014, after they responded to Freedom of Information requests. This latest figure is a nine-fold increase on the 2011/2012 total of 11 overseas trips to recruit foreign nurses.
But, of the latest cohort hired, only 27 per cent remained on the payroll for the nursing job they were recruited to do. At the same time, NHS spending on agency nurses – who are often used to fill the shortage of staff nurses – has tripled in just two years.
Dr Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said the disclosures reflected “increasingly desperate attempts” to tackle a national shortage of nurses, and said the sums being spent were “ludicrous”.
Joyce Robin, from Patient Concern, said: “It really beggars belief that at a time when money is so tight, anyone could think the answer to NHS recruitment problems is to send large groups abroad to stay in expensive hotels.”
On some occasions, senior staff returned from foreign trips having recruited no new nurses or only a handful.
According to The Telegraph, the typical cost of a new nurse being hired in this way is £3000. This includes the cost of recruitment agency fees, the recruiters’ wages, and the nurse’s wages.
Examples of spending on the recruitment trips include Aintree University Hospital Foundation Trust who spent £46,000 on a Madrid stay recruiting 20 new nurses, of which 11 remained in the job after one year; United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust who spent £100,000 to stay in Athens and recruited 39 Greek nurses with only 29 remaining; and Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust who sent staff to four-star Irish spa resorts, only for them to fail to recruit a single nurse.
The foreign recruits may have returned home, moved to other countries, or to other hospitals.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "Since May 2010, we have 21,300 more permanent clinical staff working in the NHS, including 9,500 more doctors and nearly 8,000 more nurses on our wards.
"We've also invested in leadership training to create a new generation of senior nurses.”
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