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”
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”.
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