NHS calls in Nepalese nurses to plug holes in staffing

Nurses are being flown in from Nepal to work in the NHS despite a global ban on employing healthcare workers from the country because of its own staff shortages.

The state we’re in – Owl

Eleanor Hayward www.thetimes.co.uk

The Department of Health yesterday [Monday] signed a deal with the Nepalese government to recruit staff for the NHS, agreeing to pay for their air tickets, visas and registration fees.

About 100 nurses are due to work at Hampshire Hospital NHS Foundation Trust under a pilot scheme running until the end of next year.

The UK has agreed to recognise Nepal’s nursing qualifications, saying these will automatically provide the right to work in the NHS. The bilateral agreement could pave the way for thousands more Nepalese nurses to join the health service.

Nepalese officials said all nurses aged 20 to 45 were eligible to apply for the scheme, adding they would not have to pay any fees and would get a salary of £27,000 to £32,000.

It is part of an international recruitment drive to address a shortage of 50,000 nurses and midwives.

Nepal is on a recruitment “red list”, drawn up by the World Health Organisation to prevent unethical recruitment from countries with shortages of health workers. Nepal has a health worker to population ratio of 0.67 doctors and nurses per 1,000. The WHO recommends 2.3 per 1,000.

A “memorandum of understanding” signed by Britain and Nepal gets around the red-list recruitment restrictions as it is a direct agreement between the two countries. The deal, the first on labour supply between Britain and Nepal, comes amid concerns over the NHS’s overreliance on foreign nurses. Almost half of the 48,436 people who joined the nursing and midwifery workforce in the past year were from overseas, mostly from India and the Philippines.

Pat Cullen, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Ministers must stop the overreliance on overseas staff and do more to invest in the recruitment and retention of the domestic workforce. This starts with pay. Nursing staff have endured a decade of real terms pay cuts.”

The Department of Health said: “Internationally trained staff have been part of the NHS since its inception in 1948 and continue to play a vital role.”