Suffolk/Essex: Trusts forced to go abroad to recruit nurses

Shortage of UK nurses

Shortage of UK nurses - Credit: IAN BURT

The region faces a chronic shortage of nurses unless immediate action is taken, experts have claimed.

Many hospitals in East Anglia have already been forced to go abroad to recruit large numbers of qualified staff, leaving some trusts with an annual bill of up to £180,000.

But unions, who warned an ageing nurse population would create more serious recruitment problems, last night said the overseas strategy was a bandaid on a long term problem caused by Government cuts to the number of training places at universities.

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds has so far launched two recruitment drives overseas this year, travelling to Portugal and Madeira.

According to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, the trust spent £109,362 on a two day visit to Portugal that resulted in the recruitment of 39 “high calibre” nurses.

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The hiring of 24 more nurses this month at another recruitment session in Madeira is expected to cost a further


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A spokeswoman for the hospital said: “There is a shortage of registered nurses in this country so we went abroad to get high calibre, well trained nurses with excellent communication skills to ensure we can continue to deliver high quality services to our patients.

“In Portugal, nurses complete a four-year degree course, with the final nine months spent working in an acute hospital. They have excellent care skills and particular expertise in the care of older people, which is ideal for the population we serve.

“They also bring new ideas and new experiences to our wards.”

The recruitment costs includes payments to a recruitment agency, sending clinical and HR staff to conduct interviews and flying the nurses back to the UK.

All of the nurses recruited from Portugal are still working at the hospital.

A spokesman for Colchester General Hospital said they had also ventured abroad this year.

He added: “We went in May or June to Madrid, Spain, and as a result of that we recruited 68 nurses, some of whom have already started here, but all of who will have started here by September.

“We went to Spain for various reasons, one of which is the question of supply and demand. Obviously we are keen to recruit nurses from this country but like a lot of people we are struggling to find the quantity. West Suffolk has gone abroad, James Paget have gone to Portugal and I think Addenbrookes’ are doing something somewhere in Europe. So yes, we have done that.”

The spokesman said they viewed the strategy, which resulted in the recruiting of a large number of staff, as cost effective.

Andrew Stronach, regional communication officer for the Royal College of Nursing, Eastern, said the NHS needed to think seriously about the issues with UK recruitment.

“It’s a national shortage of nurses. There just aren’t enough nurses coming through the universities because the Government has cut back on the training places. It’s a fundamental problem the UK has got at the moment and most of the trusts around here,” he said.

Mr Stronach added: “We have no qualms about the quality and we are very sympathetic to the position that trusts find themselves in. They do try and recruit locally, there aren’t the nurses out there and they end up having to go to Portugal and Spain to do it. But from our point of view it’s not the long term answer.”

He added that with many nurses in their 50s and heading towards retirement age there was a need for new nurses coming through the system.

He added: “That’s something the NHS is going to have to think about seriously in the years to come.”

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