THE BLOG
22/06/2015 14:02 BST | Updated 22/06/2016 10:59 BST

It Is Nonsensical, Unfair and Completely Illogical to Force Nurses to Leave the Country While We Face a Shortage

Thousands of nurses have left their homes and moved to the other side of the world, to work for the NHS in hospitals, our emergency departments and in our care homes. For the vast majority, their starting salary will be about £21,000 a year. Without them many health and social care organisations would struggle to deliver safe care.

Their reward for this contribution to our health service? If they don't somehow increase their salary to £35,000 they will be forced to leave the country after six years. As much as nurses deserve to be earning that much money, the sad fact is that very few will - even a ward sister, in charge of dozens of patients, has a lower starting salary than that.

This is completely unfair and completely illogical. The staffing shortages in this country have not disappeared. NHS trusts are reliant on overseas nurses to provide safe care. When these nurses have to leave the UK, these trusts will have no option but to just recruit more overseas nurses to fill their place. Then in six years' time, those nurses will be forced to leave, and so the cycle continues, costing the health service millions in wasted recruitment costs in the process.

The reason our health service is reliant on overseas nurses is very simple: training places were cut, but demand has kept on rising. Although there have been increases since then, we are still playing catch up. Even if training places are increased immediately, it will take several years for those extra nurses to enter the workforce. In the meantime, we will be reliant on overseas staff. With that knowledge, it is completely nonsensical to force the nurses who are here to leave, and to make it harder for trusts to recruit replacements.

The Home Office say that trusts have had four years to prepare for this. But that's irrelevant when there simply aren't enough nurses in the UK. The only preparation they can do is hope these rules are changed, and hope that more nurses are trained in the UK.

We will be reliant on overseas nurses for several years, and while that is the case nurses must be on the shortage occupation list, and exempt from these rules. Otherwise we are expecting health and social care organisations to produce staff out of thin air.

Of course, overseas recruitment is not a sustainable way to plan a workforce. The only way for the UK to regain control over its own health service workforce is by training more nurses. 37,000 potential nursing students were turned away last year so there are people out there who want to embark on a nursing career.

There are clear signs of a global nursing shortage, meaning an ongoing reliance on overseas recruitment is not just unreliable but unsustainable. Unless we expand training and have enough nurses in this country, we will also be at the mercy of global trends which we can't control.

The UK has always benefited from attracting some of the world's most talented and caring nurses, and overseas nurses will continue to play a vital role in our health services. But an over reliance on their recruitment is not in anyone's best long term interests.

Dr Peter Carter is the chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing