NL Hot Topic: Are there too many Foreign Nurses in the NHS?

by Tayyabal Riaz


81% of the 7,111 nurses recruited last year were foreign. Nurses at recruitment fair in Portugal could not fill out forms without help from electronic translator.

The Health Service Journal figures show that 1,925 nurses came from Spain and 1,240 from Portugal. Kings College Hospital in London recruited the most, 276.

Statistics revealed 4 out 5 nurses in the NHS to be recruited abroad. About 6,000 nurses were recruited in Spain and Portugal last year and issues have been raised regarding their inadequate English skills posing a language barrier between patients. Katherine Murphy of the Patients Association said: ‘We are concerned that poor English skills may lead to mistakes and misunderstandings when patients are trying to explain their problems.’

The Royal College of Nursing states the system as ‘over relying’ on foreign staff. This rise in overseas recruitment was as a result of cuts in funding for training. Joyce Robins, of Patient Concern, said: ‘All these nurses may be excellent, but there are real concerns about the language barrier. It just shows how disorganised the NHS is – why aren’t we training more of our own?’

The high unemployment levels in neighbouring European states also exacerbates the rise in foreign recruitment by the NHS. A loophole in European laws allows nurses and other European workers to avoid any language training or a pre-requisite of adequate English skills.

A Greek nurse, who spoke exclusively to Naija Living told us that the “NHS does not have another option as there are is a shortage of trained nurses in the UK. If they want trained nurses from the UK, it will take time for training etc. Till then foreign nurses are a long term investment for the system.” Adding on, she feels that if communication is in fact an issue, then the UK is responsible for setting basic requirement of English proficiency when recruiting. Similarly, Paula, a German nurse at Imperial agrees that the lack of staff leaves the NHS with little options and this is not just the case in nursing, but other professions too. For example, in engineering, where foreign recruits are dominant. Overall, both nurses agree that communication is scarcely an issue; they find it helpful to communicate with their multilingual skills with patients from similar backgrounds.

Correspondingly, British nurses feel comfortable having foreign colleagues. James, having worked as a theatre nurse at Royal London in Whitechapel, felt that foreign nurses helped put some patients at ease, as patients from different ethnical backgrounds found comfort in a nurse from similar backgrounds as theirs. He also feels that, “If there are skills coming in from abroad, then a little diversity is always good. Not all British workers want to invest in the hours and if someone foreign is doing so, then why should that be a problem.” Furthermore, James states that nurses from ethnic backgrounds have assisted in communication between patients and helped to better understand a patient’s issue by acting as indirect interpreters.



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