A recruitment firm claims it could help solve widespread nursing shortages in the UK by hooking up trusts directly with training providers in Eastern Europe and other parts of the European Union.
London-based company Hunter Miller is offering to link trusts up with universities and colleges in Poland and Bulgaria who want to help train nurses to work in this country.
“The problem in the UK is that not enough people want to go into nursing”
It argues that cash-strapped EU institutions are keen to attract more students and fill empty nurse training places with the lure of a job in the NHS.
Meanwhile, the firm said working closely with providers would enable NHS organisations to shape training and boost retention rates among the EU nurses they go on to employ.
Nick Miller, general manager for international recruitment, said he had written to more than 30 NHS trusts to date and revealed he was currently in discussion with two hospitals with a view to setting up a small-scale trial.
However, he admitted to Nursing Times he was “absolutely astonished” that more trusts had not leapt at the chance to swell nurse numbers.
“My team’s involvement would be in liaising between the college and the NHS trust”
Mr Miller said he believed working direct with higher education providers in other EU countries could potentially bring thousands of much-needed extra nurses to the UK.
“The problem in the UK is that not enough people want to go into nursing. In Poland there are plenty of people who would go into nursing, but they can go and work in a shop and get just as much money quickly without having to go through a training programme,” he said.
He added: “If they can get £2,000 a month as opposed to 400 Euros and someone like me can say, ‘these are all the jobs you can do once you qualify as registered nurse in the NHS’, they are going to think about it.”
He said he was currently representing four colleges in Poland and one in Bulgaria who would like to connect with UK trusts.
“I now have five colleges and each of the colleges has a spare capacity of between 30 and 50 places they think they could fill if there were opportunities in the NHS,” he said.
“Obviously they are interested, because they get more students and money coming through and are even prepared to add in extra English tuition to bring them up to the necessary standard,” he noted.
But this was just the tip of the iceberg and there were hundreds of institutions in places like Romania and Lithuania and Spain that could potentially supply up to 40,000 nurses to the NHS, he suggested.
“There is no reason why the NHS could not do deals with the national health services of Poland or Hungary”
He described his firm’s role as acting as a “go-between” and establishing relationships between individual trusts and universities.
The company has already run successful schemes for North East Ambulance Service and East Midlands Ambulance service to hire, train and re-locate paramedics from Poland and other countries.
“My team’s involvement would be in liaising between the college and the NHS trust, identifying nurses early on that want to work in the UK and giving them all the information they could possibly want about working in another country,” he said.
The team would monitor progress on English language skills, with the idea that students would start preparing for English tests from the word go, and help arrange four weeks’ work experience in the UK.
The firm could also support newly qualified nurses through the recruitment process and the move to the UK, including helping them get a bank account, national insurance number, and somewhere to live.
“However, it is up to the trust if they want to pay for all those things,” said Mr Miller. “If they do, then we’re charging East Midlands Ambulance Service £2,800 for each paramedic we hire.
“We hold back £800 of that until they have actually worked for the trust for a year,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is work with trusts to overcome problems rather than just placing people, charging a fee and then moving on.”
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Mr Miller said he had contacted senior figures at NHS Improvement, Health Education and NHS England and met with the Royal College of Nursing to discuss the idea, but it had “gained no traction whatsoever”.
He said he had also written to 30 to 40 different trusts and was “absolutely astonished” by the lack of response.
“It is not as if a trust has got to shell out some vast amount of money or send vast number of staff abroad just to try it out – that is what I have found utterly extraordinary,” he said.
He said one reason for the lack of enthusiasm could be because Hunter Miller is not a mainstream supplier to the NHS and was not on any framework agreements.
Uncertainty over Brexit could also be a factor, although he said trusts had not really mentioned this as a reason for not going ahead.
He maintained that, by building strong relationships with universities in the EU, trusts could ensure a steady supply of recruits who were less likely to leave.
“Quite often, with nurses coming to the UK, they get a job from a blind NHS trust they know very little about and find they are not happy there and then move somewhere else. There is a big problem with attrition with all nurses from overseas,” he said.
Mr Miller said student nurses who knew there were jobs at one or two particular trusts a couple of years down the line were far more likely to have thoroughly checked out the places they planned to work.
Meanwhile, a trust could work closely with training providers to ensure potential employees had the right knowledge and skills.
However, he also acknowledged that the governments of EU countries would not be happy with the idea of training up nurses only for them to immediately disappear to the UK.
“It costs a third of the price to train a nurse in Poland than it does in the NHS”
If there was a mass exodus of nurses, then he said the UK may have to look at repaying a proportion of training costs.
“The Polish government may step in and say ‘we’re not having that’ at some point, which they will do without a shadow of a doubt if this really starts to work,” he said. “But it costs a third of the price to train a nurse in Poland than it does in the NHS.
“So, there is no reason why the NHS could not do deals with the national health services of Poland or Hungary to say, ‘for each nurse that is employed by the NHS, we’ll reimburse you some of the cost per year of the training of that nurse’,” he said.
He hoped pilot schemes at one or more hospitals would demonstrate how well the scheme could work and the potential for expansion.
One of the hospitals he is talking to is short of 450 nurses and he predicted it was possible to “get rid of that problem once and for all”.
“If we can do it with one, then we can do it with another and another. Ultimately, there is no reason why it can’t be scaled up,” he told Nursing Times.