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Concern overseas nurse target has 'mysteriously vanished'

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Questions have been raised over why a previously confirmed target of recruiting 5,000 foreign nurses a year into the NHS is not included in its new workforce plan.

The figure was expected to be part of today’s long-awaited Interim NHS People Plan, because it featured in a draft version leaked to The Times in May and confirmed to be accurate by NHS Improvement.

According to the newspaper, the early edition of the report laid out plans to recruit 5,000 overseas nurses every year until 2024 to address workforce gap in the short-term.

However, this was only expected to marginally reduce the number of nurse vacancies from the current level of 40,000 to around 38,800.

At the time, NHS Improvement, which is leading the development of the plan, confirmed to Nursing Times that the figures reported were correct.

However, the specific numbers do not feature in the final interim NHS People Plan, which was officially published today (see PDF attached below).

“Expected recommendations to recruit 5,000 nurses a year internationally have mysteriously vanished”

Jonathan Ashworth

Instead, the plan states: “In the short to medium term, given existing vacancy rates and the lead times for training new nurses, we will need to increase international recruitment significantly to secure rapid increases in supply.”

Commenting on the plan today, Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “Expected recommendations to recruit 5,000 nurses a year internationally have mysteriously vanished from the final draft.”

In a major report released in March, three independent think-tanks – Health Foundation, the King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust – warned that England would need to recruit an additional 5,000 nurses a year until 2023-24 in order to meet demand.

Reacting to the interim NHS People Plan, Anita Charlesworth, director of economics and research at the Health Foundation, said: “Without at least 5,000 nurses from abroad each year, NHS staffing shortages will increase. 

Anita Charlesworth

Anita Charlesworth

Anita Charlesworth

“This puts the laudable ambitions to improve care set out in the NHS Long Term Plan at risk,” she added.

A spokeswoman for NHS Improvement said it wanted to focus the interim workforce plan on “culture change” and that more detailed proposals would be laid out in the final version later this year, following the government’s next spending review.

However, the interim plan does reveal plans for a new approach in which regional teams at NHS England and NHS Improvement will become responsible for co-ordinating international recruitment efforts for local health systems.

Work will also be carried out with the Department of Health and Social Care and professional regulators such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council to help make international recruitment processes quicker and easier, noted the plan.

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