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‘Care homes will have to become better employers’

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The shortage of registered nurses is over, for now. Nurses from outside the EU, apart from some specialists, remain ineligible for work permits.

The recent decision to confirm this has been condemned by the RCN and care-home providers, which say that homes rely on international recruitment of skilled staff.

Why, when newly registered nurses are struggling to find jobs, do care homes rely on overseas recruitment?

In 2003 the number of nurses educated overseas – 16,000 – exceeded the number trained in the UK. Most – 93% – were from non-EU countries.

With the increase in home-grown students, the number of registered nurses is now at an all-time high. New nurses struggle to find jobs. The Migration Advisory Committee made the right decision.

There are also huge ethical questions about recruiting non-EU nurses. This devastates the healthcare systems of the countries that can least afford to lose skilled nurses.

Overseas recruitment also depresses wages, or contains wage costs, depending on your point of view. Nurses in the UK earn 39% less than teachers.

If you work in the NHS and recruit staff, you’ll know that any job advertisement will generate huge numbers of applications from overseas nurses working in care homes who are very keen to join the NHS.

They are applying to the NHS because wages are higher, job security is greater, they have better sick pay and pensions, and there are more opportunities for promotion.

Care homes could attract staff more readily if they matched NHS pay and conditions. Few do. Debates rage about the reasons for this. Some argue that nursing homes are underfunded, others that profits take precedence over pay and conditions.

The places that care for frail, vulnerable, older people are having difficulty attracting and retaining high-quality staff. Care-home owners will have to develop strategies to recruit and retain staff. These will have to ensure that nurses and HCAs are valued, benefit from decent conditions, and are paid the market rate. A stable, educated workforce makes a huge difference to an organisation’s ability to deliver quality care. Older people deserve nothing less.

Linda Nazarko is a nurse consultant at Ealing PCT

Want to read more of Linda Nazarko’s opinions? Just click on the more by this author link at the top of the page.

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