NHS ‘unethical’ in recruiting nurses from short-staffed countries

<span>Photograph: Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Akintunde Akinleye / Reuters/Reuters

The NHS has been accused of “unethical” behaviour after it emerged that it has been recruiting record numbers of nurses and midwives from countries which have serious staffing shortages.

Bringing in staff from “red-list” countries risked destabilising those nations’ healthcare systems and breaching government guidelines, said hospital employers and the Royal College of Nursing.

Prof Nicola Ranger, the RCN’s chief nurse, said: “The government’s over-reliance on unethical international recruitment from red-list countries has become the norm and cannot continue. It’s a false economy. The government should invest in nursing staff in the UK, funding nurse education and fair pay – not destabilising other healthcare systems.”

Ranger spoke out after Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) figures showed that almost as many overseas trained nurses and midwives (15,036) joined its register between April and September as did those who were educated in the UK (15,067).

“While overseas healthcare workers in the UK are invaluable, the rise in joiners from red-list countries is concerning,” said Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers. “International recruitment must be done ethically, in line with the Department of Health and Social Care’s code of conduct.”

The NMC’s latest biannual update on the makeup of its register shows that growing numbers of nurses and midwives are coming to work in the UK from red-list countries, despite government guidelines specifically prohibiting recruitment from them.

“This includes significant proportional rises in joiners from Ghana and Zambia. There also remain a steadily high number of joiners from Nigeria,” the regulator said.

In a plea to NHS bodies to avoid red-list recruitment, Andrea Sutcliffe, the NMC’s chief executive, said: “It’s important that employers continue to be mindful of the government’s ethical recruitment code, since we’re seeing many joiners from red-list countries.

“People from across the world want to come and work in the UK. However, employers must not undermine health systems in countries with the most pressing workforce challenges, through active recruitment.”

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of nurses and midwives arriving from India. Between April and September 7,223 people from India joined the NMC register – 49% up on the 4,849 who did so in the same period last year. That level cements India’s position as the country that accounts for more international recruitment into the UK than any other.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said that nurses from overseas made “a vital contribution to social care and health services across the UK … that we will continue to rely on for some time yet”.

In June the government and NHS England launched the NHS long-term workforce plan. Under it the number of homegrown doctors, nurses, midwives and other health professionals will expand dramatically over the next 15 years, to give the health service the personnel it needs and to reduce its dependence on oversea staff.

The NMC data also shows that there are 808,488 nurses, midwives and nursing assistants on the council’s register, more than ever before.