Almost 6,000 foreign nurses have been recruited by English hospitals in the past year, new figures have shown, leading to calls for ministers to “get a grip” on a training crisis in the profession.
Three-quarters of all 140 acute hospital trusts in England filled a shortfall in registered nurses with 5,778 foreign staff, according to an investigation by the Health Service Journal (HSJ).
Dr Peter Carter, the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the figures indicated “lamentable workforce planning” in the health service.
Spain, Portugal and the Philippines provided more than 3,700 nurses combined in the 12 months to September 2014, while 14 trusts each hired more than 100 nurses.
Meanwhile, King’s College Hospital in south London, recruited a total of 276 – higher than any other trust.
Some 93 hospital trusts indicated that they would continue to recruit foreign nurses in the same period next year, with 32 suggesting they would seek to hire a combined 1,800 more.
But the Department of Health highlighted figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council showing that, in the 12 months to March this year, 28,958 people registered as nurses and midwives. Of these, 5,388 were trained in Europe and 840 from elsewhere overseas.
Dr Carter blamed cuts in training places for the shortfall in British staff to fill the acute hospital posts.He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “There’s nothing wrong with people from overseas; the health service has done well over the years from the West Indies, Mauritius, Malaysia and so on.
“But there’s something wrong with a system that has such lamentable workforce planning that we have now got a crisis and you have got people recruiting from all points of the compass.
“Someone really has to take responsibility for this.”
He said it would be “totally unacceptable” for hospitals to employ foreign nurses if they were unable to speak English fluently.
“It’s no good taking on people who can’t speak the language,” he said.
“This was wholly avoidable and we are now playing catch-up. You do need to be able to communicate with people, and people should not be employing people that can’t do the job properly.”
He added: “Individual trusts and hospitals are not responsible for commissioning the number of training places.
“That was taken out of their hands, that was done by the health authorities and now you have this shortfall.
“This is not the way to run a health service.”
Dr Carter continued: “The Government has to take responsibility for their actions, they have got to get a grip.”
There were 200,000 applicants for 20,000 training places a year, he said.
“We should increase the number of training places, we should welcome that fact that people want to be nurses, and we should embrace them.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “There are now more than 5,600 more nurses on our wards than in 2010, and we have created 1,000 extra adult nursing training places this year.
“Individual trusts are responsible for planning and recruiting their workforce, but it is important to note that overseas nurses have always made a valuable contribution to the NHS.”