The growing importance of overseas nursing recruitment in the NHS has been highlighted by a new report from the Royal College of Nursing.
Figures obtained by the RCN from freedom of information requests to the Nursing and Midwifery Council have shown the UK has become a net importer of nurses for the first time in eight years, with 6,228 nursing registrations from abroad in 2013/14.
This was up by nearly 45 percent on the previous year, with only 4,379 nurses leaving the UK to work overseas during the same timeframe. The last time more nursing professionals came to the country than those leaving was in 2005/06.
The RCN's data is indicative of the essential role that foreign nursing staff play in supporting effective service delivery within the NHS, especially at a time when safe staffing levels are under the spotlight to a greater degree than ever before.
In the last year, a series of reports by experts such as Sir Robert Francis and Sir Bruce Keogh have led to the introduction of new laws and checks to make sure medical facilities are operating with appropriate levels of manpower at all times, leading to widespread recruitment drives by NHS trusts up and down the country.
As a result, the NHS workforce is currently growing, with overseas staff playing a key part in aiding this expansion, but the RCN said more needs to be done to ensure the number of home-grown nurses does not fall behind.
It called for more funding to be allocated to creating nurse education placements, as well as for attention to be paid to the ageing nature of workforce at the moment. It is estimated that 46 percent of nurses working in the NHS in England are now aged 45 or over, suggesting that new blood is required to prevent a brain drain in the coming years.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said a long-term recruitment strategy is needed to address this problem, stating: "It is common sense that relying on short-term fixes is far more expensive in the long run."
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