Overseas nurse numbers rising

UNIONS have expressed concern at the soaring numbers of international nurses being employed at a Suffolk hospital.The nurses, mostly from the Far East, now make up more than 10% of nursing staff at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds and representatives from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said this is putting extra pressure on their British counterparts.

UNIONS have expressed concern at the soaring numbers of international nurses being employed at a Suffolk hospital.

The nurses, mostly from the Far East, now make up more than 10% of nursing staff at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds and representatives from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said this is putting extra pressure on their British counterparts.

They said the adaptation period of up to six months, where they work under the guidance of existing nurses, means the stretched workforce is strained even more.

But hospital bosses said the nurses recruited over the past two-and-a-half years are becoming valuable assets and insist the initiative is a big success.


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Patients at the unit said they could not fault the treatment they had received from nurses from the Philippines, India and Hong Kong.

Mary Carter, one of the hospital team which provides support for the international recruits in their first months, said 152 nurses had been taken on at the 1,300-nurse West Suffolk since May 2000.

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Thirty nine international nurses arrived at the unit last month.

Ms Carter said: "The reason we have gone overseas is because of the big recruitment problem here. I see the foreign intake as a long-term investment by the NHS because the vast majority of them tend to stay. Once they have completed their adaptation period they are as competent and as responsible as any British nurse and I have only heard good things from patients.

"I think this is a very good initiative. British nurses are going to America and Australia – it's a global industry and we're very pleased to have our international recruits. We are in a win-win situation.

She said the adaptation programme provided training in British methods, offered English lessons if needed and provided help with local dialects and language.

She said there was also a campaign to attract British nurses who had left the profession back to the industry as well as new nurses from the area.

She admitted the mentoring system used for the adaptation period did put pressure on existing nurses but she insisted it was worth it.

Lindsay Pike, RCN rep at the unit, said health bosses should look at the reasons behind the shortage of local recruits.

She said 42,000 international nurses worked in the UK and last year the number of foreign nurses applying to go on the nursing register in the UK outnumbered British nurses for the first time. One in 12 nurses in England were now from overseas, she added.

Ms Pike admitted they were filling vacancies the NHS was struggling to fill but added: "It is a double-edged sword because of the adaptation period they need – it takes a lot of time. We just haven't got nurses on the ground to cope, it's robbing Peter to pay Paul and it makes life extremely difficult.

"We accept overseas nurses are needed because we have got a big shortage but trying to find nurses already here at the West Suffolk Hospital to help with the adaptation period is very difficult because there aren't enough around in the first place and those that are there are already working hard – its an added pressure."

Patient Terry Smiles, 25, from Thetford, who is recovering from a broken ankle, said: "People are moving all around the world doing different things. It's ignorant to be racist today. These staff are great."

French teacher Michael Robinson, from Sudbury, who is receiving treatment to straighten one of his legs damaged during a sporting accident, agreed. He said: "The overseas staff have been brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

Connie Gano, from the Philippines, is about to finish her adaptation period and will become a fully qualified nurse in the next few days.

She said: "So far there have been no problems. Everyone has been very friendly and the adaptation period has been very useful for me to learn the different practices used here."

Around 10% of the 1,200 nurses working at Ipswich Hospital are from overseas. The hospital has recruited from Finland and the Philippines with most of the nurses staying for four years.

Jan Rowsell, hospital spokeswoman, said that the percentage remained low because of the success of the hospital's local recruitment campaign.

She said: "The support the nurses have received from the local community has been absolutely fantastic. If you are asking someone to leave their homeland and come and work for you, then you need to ensure you give them the warmest possible welcome."

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