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Australian red tape leaves UK nurses unable to work

Highly experienced UK nurses who moved to Australia to make a new life have been left in limbo and unable to work by a recent change in registration rules.

Many have spent thousands of pounds re-locating only to find their qualifications are no longer recognised, with some reduced to working as waitresses or claiming benefits.

Others have been forced to abandon their dream altogether and return home, Nursing Times has been told.

“I ran an acute medical admissions ward on nights, and I’ve been told that I am not of the standard to work in Australia”

Margaret Walker

Their plight stems from recent changes to the way the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia recognises qualifications.

The changes, which came into force in February, require overseas nurses to hold qualifications deemed “substantially equivalent” to Australian nurse training. However, a three-year UK nursing diploma is no longer considered to pass that test.

Nurses granted “skilled migrant” visas before the change and who moved to Australia assured their skills were in demand are now seeing their registration applications turned down by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Some have been told their only option is to do a “bridging course” costing A$10-15,000 or are attempting to top up their diplomas to degree level.

Meanwhile, scores of others are still waiting to hear their fate, with many left in limbo for more than six months and some up to a year.

More than 150 of them have joined a Facebook group highlighting the problems faced by UK nurses struggling to register.

They include Margaret Walker who moved to Queensland in 2012 hoping to finish her nursing career there “on a high”.

“I have got 40 years’ experience in nursing,” said Ms Walker, who has a diploma level qualification. “I ran an acute medical admissions ward on nights, and I’ve been told that I am not of the standard to work in Australia.”

She said there were hundreds of others in a similar situation, including some who had been actively recruited by Australian agencies and arrived “not knowing AHPRA has moved the goalposts”.

Community nurse specialist Tracey Barry attended a recruitment event where she was told her skills would be very much in demand and subsequently obtained a visa. But she has been waiting for more than six months to hear about her registration application, causing “huge stress” on her family.

“We have now spent in excess of £20,000, including flights and shipment, and sold our lovely home of 16 years,” she said.

Maria Louise Davies, a specialist practitioner in district nursing, said it cost her more than £33,000 to move her home and family to Australia.

“I have not been able to work as I haven’t been registered by AHPRA,” she said. “I have no savings left and will soon need to claim social benefits to survive.”

AHPRA chief executive Martin Fletcher, former chief executive of the UK’s National Patient Safety Agency, acknowledged the rule change had caused problems for some nurses and that he was “focused on making sure we address those as quickly as possible”.


Martin Fletcher

He said he was working with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia to look at possible solutions and hoped to say more in early September.

The AHPRA had a duty to ensure overseas trained nurses met the same standards expected of Australian nurses and midwives, he said last week on Perth’s ABC radio station.

The UK’s Nursing and Midwifery Council said it was “within the gift of regulators in different countries to set the required standards for their country”.

“We continue to work with AHPRA to ensure that they are basing their decisions about UK programmes on accurate information,” said a statement.


What nurses have told Nursing Times


“I cannot explain how devastated I feel at the implication I am sub-standard after more than 40 years in the profession”

Margaret Walker, band 5 registered nurse


“I have been living in Melbourne since March with my husband and two young children. I applied for registration with AHPRA in October but am still waiting so am thus claiming benefits and not fulfilling the requirements of my visa”

Kim Irvine, registered mental health nurse


“I have been assessed as suitable for permanent residency for Australia and have spent £10,000 so far on the process. AHPRA have had my application for almost five months now and won’t give me a decision at this time as my original qualification is a diploma”

Kelly Vernon, nurse with 15 years’ experience who topped diploma up to a degree


“It is very frustrating. You are committed to fulfilling your dream only for it to be ripped from you - as well as a large sum of money”

Tracey Lamont, registered nurse with 20 years’ experience in theatre/anaesthetics


“My husband and I are currently unemployed, we are surviving on our savings, which are diminishing rapidly. My mental health has suffered due to this predicament”

Gaynor Harrington, mental health nurse specialist with 16 years’ experience now living in Perth



Readers' comments (19)

  • Whilst I have every sympathy for these nurses the answer surely is to check out your employability before committing to the move.

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  • I was in the process of applying for sponsorship in Australia and have had to abandon the process until I top up my diploma to degree level. It's frustrating but I guess I'm lucky it happened before I ended up unemployed. I think it's ridiculous that nurses who have supported the health service in Oz now have to pay lots of money to study or lose their career over there. If they've been employed for years surely experience should overrule? Either that or costs to top up the diploma should be vastly reduced!

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  • It is devastating to hear that especially when you've high hopes of moving to Australia or elsewhere. The NMC did the same thing with Australian, American,Canadian, New Zealand nurse and et all by suddenly blocking them from the pipeline when the NMC changed its laws regarding nurses from outside the EU. I do believe these are the repercussions. The amount of Red tape is also being practised by the NMC.

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  • To Anonymous who says check the employability, Diploma nurses were employable the rules changed to make the registration degree graduate only registration! Therefore people had made the move based on existing rules to have the rug pulled under their feet.

    The board should have put a cut off such as that nurses who trained after say 2013 must have degree level entry. When I first trained there were no nursing degrees, I have now continued to update to Msc level however not everyone has the time, funding or academic confidence or even had the need if they had been nursing for years and some even being management! I cannot see in my years of experience that an academic degree nurse is any better than a diploma or certificate nurse. In fact I think nursing has lost a lot of good nurses and potential nurses as a result of degree requirements.

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  • why hasent the uk done this with countrys that come here cant speak a word,understand basic nursing and we have to use our phones to understand.
    all I can said is boycott the ozzies .
    And martin fletcher get another job because you don't know if ass is in hand.
    how much dose he get for this?£££££££

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  • Oh, for goodness sake...please do not post comments if you are unable to spell or speak the English language!
    As for Diploma versus Degree status...well, the best nurses are those who love their job and are capable of providing the safest and most caring environment for our patients!
    Please bring back hospital based training for new recruits ....the best way to learn is on the job...the technical component will, therefore, be more easily understood with maturity and experience!!

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  • Academic qualification are not the definitive answer to being a capable nurse. True Nursing care is beyond academia.

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  • Yes, it is fair as is not different from what the UK does to very experience nurses from abroad. They are complaining because they think they should be treated differently. It is clear that NMC have no basis to say otherwise.

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  • I am an Australian trained general nurse and midwife with 30 years experience managing rural and remote area facilities. I also hold a degree in Nursing. I struggled for 12 months to get my general nursing accepted here in the UK and that was after having to do an overseas nursing program, but sadly not my midwifery. Both Uk and Australia need to look at the process of registration and the quality of some of the nurses and midwives they are failing.

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  • It's disappointing that so little of the conversation here has lucidly debated the role of nurse regulatory authorities. I suspect few UK nurses understand the requirements imposed on Australian nurses by the NMC. It is not, in point of fact, anyone's right or privilege to expect to be employed as a nurse wherever they wish. Most nurses, working inside bureaucracies, should understand that there are rules to abide by and gaining professional registration in a different country is simply another example of this reality.

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  • Hithere,

    Can I please let you know that it is best not to come to Australia as there is high unemployment among nurses , do not believe what you read , we have so many graduates that cant even get a start in nursing. It is really sad that after 3 years of study that you cannot get a position in which you were told by the media that there is a nursing shortage. Do not listen, Its not true , we currently have a glut of nurses and now the government has changed its policy in employing overseas nurses to try to address the issues. This post may appear harsh but the good times are over. A majority of our nurses are casual or otherwise on a short term contract . I welcome feedback on this topic , do you agree?

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  • I understand that nursing in Australia involves three tiers. Assistant in Nursing (AIN Certificate) Endorsed Enrolled Nurses (EEN Diploma) and Registered Nurses (RN 3 years degree).
    Students in University Course studies after 6 months into their course can find work on hospitals as an AIN while continuing studies; Students who have completed EEN Diploma can work as an AIN until registration is approved giving opportunities to gain valuable experience working in the hospital environment on restricted duties in patient care giving a foot in the door. EEN's give a minium of 400hhours voluntary hours in hospitals during their course.

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  • We came over in 2011we waited for registration though first. It took almost 18 months for AHPRA to sort our applications and we lost our original jobs due to delay. Even after they granted us the right to register here, they still made it difficult , claiming that we had not sent in right paperwork etc... the representative told me she did not have a valid copy of my passport, fortunately I noticed it in the file she was holding ! I put in an official complaint and got registered the next day. I hold a masters degree! But it is not readily accepted here!! I feel very sad for nurses who have made the move before obtaining registration, you have been poorly advised. My advice is bite the bullet and do the extra training they require. Pride comes before a fall. Practice here is very different to UK (medicalization) so its worth undertaking some training, just to become familiar with different terminology . Nursing is nursing at the end of the day , same principles. As for NMC insisting that Australian nurses and midwives undertake further training for UK practice , there is good reason for this. The midwifery role in UK is vastly different in the UK. I worked with an Australian student midwife in UK who purposely did her training in UK as it generally recognised that Midwifery practice in UK has increased levels of inter dependence and extended scope within the training. Midwives here, have to undertake a PG dip to gain extended scope in practice. As for nurses they require a further graduate year of on the job experience after training, hence they generally require increased support. In the UK this grad year is included in the final year of training. There are good and bad nurses irrespective of academic qualification and in my mind the integrity of the nurse will be reflected in a robust CPD portfolio and this should be assessed and afforded appropriate merit. For those nurse thinking about migrating here - the lifestyle is great the work less so unfortunately. Storied of great work- life balance are mythical I am sad to say and the recent economical downturn is impacting negatively on migrant workers (understandably so). For UK nurses be smart get a career break from work, rent out your properties and suck it and see first. To the blogger who hates bad spelling get a life.

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  • Anonymous | 20-Aug-2014 2:18 am

    It's a bit silly to be complaining in the first instance that you can't understand immigrants when you have a less-than-basic grasp of the written word. This is a place of opinion after all, and considering this is a debate about education...

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  • Anonymous | 19-Aug-2014 5:17 pm

    I find it ironic that every line of your comment has either a spelling or a grammatical error, or both.

    Anonymous | 20-Aug-2014 2:18 am

    Actually, literacy is important and it is a sad reflection on education that you don't consider it so. Good grammar and spelling indicate that a person has a good general standard of education and one could argue that they are particularly important in a clinical environment.

    However, back to the subject. These nurses were assured of work, and after giving up everything, have been told that they are not eligible. It is a pity because from what I have seen of Australia it really isn't a better place to live than the UK, a matter of taste, of course - it's also an extremely expensive place to live so it must be quite shock to those nurses who thought they'd be getting a better life. Goodness knows how the ones who never got work are managing.

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  • Degree nurses are the requirement in Scotland as well as having the ability to provide high nursing practice. This ensures that nurses practice using the best current, evidenced based practice for their patients. The degree course ensures that nurses can do this along with many other things which benefit patients care such as research, audit etc. Using the best evidenced practice also means less possibility of litigation for the nurse and for their health board. There is no reason why a good nurse can't also be degree qualified providing up to date, researched, evidenced knowledge and care along with empathy, caring, experience and knowledge.
    If a nurse has not qualified with a degree they are not in a position to dispute its value.

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  • Several of the nurses seem to have checked out their employability, but been either misinformed or the rule change not highlighted at jobs fairs.
    Whilst yes, each regulatory body has the right to set their own rules to protect the public, Pamela Gridley's comment seems practical. After all, there will be UK-trained nurses already working in Australia who don't have a degree but aren't now being removed from the register. Here in the UK, diploma, or pre-diploma, trained nurses aren't thrown off the register when the NMC changes it's training rules so long as they've fulfilled PREP/practice requirements.

    What is the solution for UK nurses travelling to Oz (or vice versa)? Kelly Vernon (in article) has topped up her diploma to a degree, but is still having problems getting registered, whereas a newly-qualified degree student would be? Defies logic.

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  • Enormous number of graduates looking for work in Australia. Unemployment under new Liberal Government very high.
    Refer to previous comment "the good times are over". They are over in Australia for nurses. Had to happen.

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  • I had a similar situation nearly 20 years ago only I wanted to emigrate to Aussie but becauses my original qualification had been an enrolled nurse , I later did my conversion to RN but Autralia would not recongnise any of my years as an EN, luckily New Zealand belcomed me with open arms.

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