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Recruiting foreign healthcare workers could solve staffing shortfall

11 July 2016

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The Health Foundation is calling on policymakers to look at how international recruitment could be used to address looming workforce shortages.

The report, Staffing matters; funding counts, says that while a shortage of thousands nurses and GPs could derail the Five Year Forward View, international recruitment could help solve the problem.

“There is no shortage of qualified staff available to recruit in other countries, no lack of specialist recruitment agencies ready to facilitate the process, and, currently, no absence of UK employers anxious to recruit,” says the report.

With international recruitment being used as a quick fix for employers faced with pressure to fill vacancies, the report found that the rate of international trained nurses has risen from 10% in 2009 to about one in three in 2015/16.

The report emphasises the government’s role in monitoring and moderating international recruitment, so it can become a more integral part of a sustainable, long-term approach to supplying health professionals for the NHS.

To “buy time” while implementing such a long-term plan, the report recommends aligning temporary staff use policies and international recruitment policies.

However, the report warns against filling the shortage with temporary workers in long-term positions.

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“Shorter-term staffing flexibility can become a longer-term cost driver when temporary staff are used inappropriately, or long term, to cover for unfilled permanent staff posts,” the report says.

In 2014/15 NHS providers spent £3.3bn on temporary staff, which accounted for 7% of the total staff bill – up from 3.4% in 2011/12.

This forms just part of a wider failure to understand the link between funding allocation and workforce levels, leading to a “boom and bust” approach to the NHS frontline.

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: “Funding constraints and workforce shortages without a doubt present the greatest risks to the delivery of the Five Year Forward View – and the longer-term sustainability of our NHS.

“The current approach to workforce policy needs to be overhauled so that staffing and funding are treated as two sides of the same coin.

“The recent decision for the UK to leave the EU will create additional challenges – both in terms of finances and the ability to attract and retain valuable European staff.

“We urgently need a fully aligned and coordinated national approach to workforce policy and planning, underpinned by greater predictability on funding, to ensure the NHS can sustain high quality healthcare for the long term.”

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