The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has been accused of human ‘asset stripping’ after new figures showed that four out of ten new nurses come from abroad.
A report by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says that more than 10,000 nurses have been employed in Britain over the last three years, with the bulk coming from the Philippines, South Africa and India.
In total, 41 per cent of all nurses recruited in the UK from 2000 to 2003 came from overseas. Out of 87,491 new nurses registered, 36,197 were from abroad.
Combined with the lure from US and other European countries, the result of this policy has been to drain resources from developing countries.
In the Philippines, the annual flow of nurses out of the country now several times greater than the number who are produced, leading to an acute nursing shortage, particularly in poorer rural areas.
Some Filipino doctors have even 'downskilled' to train as nurses overseas, a unique and rather sad example of "reverse human resource development".
Other countries, such as South Africa, have called on the NHS to stop stripping them of experienced nursing staff.
But although new regulations have been introduced to stop the NHS recruiting directly from developing countries, they do not apply to private nursing agencies or prohibit nurses applying directly to British employers.
According to Beverly Malone, general secretary of the RCN, what started as a short-term fix to plug gaps while the UK trained more nurses has now become a long-term staffing strategy.
"Nurses from overseas make an invaluable contribution to the UK's healthcare system,” she said.
"Without them, in terms of nursing numbers, we would have been running fast just to stand still. But we can't guarantee that these nurses will continue to want to come to live and work in the UK. Nor should we encourage the targeting of nurses from developing nations.
"UK employers are now starting to face stiff opposition from other countries such as the US and Canada, which have their own nursing shortages. Put simply, is the policy of shoring up the UK's nursing workforce with overseas recruits sustainable?"
With the United States alone needing 10,000 new nurses annually and Europe perhaps twice that number, the RCN’s report warns that the supply of nurses from developing countries may not be able to match demand. And it predicts that the next target for the nursing recruiters will be the Eastern European states that joined the EU on May 1.
Beverly Malone added: "We hope that the new pay and career package in the NHS will solve many of the problems that have historically dissuaded people from entering and staying in the nursing profession.
"But the Government cannot afford to become complacent. We also need to see urgent action to prevent recruiters in the UK from targeting countries that can ill afford to lose their experienced nursing staff."