Hospital bosses should personally fly to low and middle income countries in a bid to recruit more foreign nurses to work in the NHS, policy experts have said.
Richard Murray, chief executive of the King’s Fund, said delegating hiring to private agencies risked Britain losing the “international competition” for foreign nurses and exacerbating staff shortages.
Instead, frontline managers and clinicians should travel to recruitment hotspots such as Manila and Delhi to personally sell the merits of a career in their hospital or region, he said.
A major joint report this week by the King’s Fund, Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation predicts that nurse shortages in England will double to 70,000 in 2023-24 at the current rate.
The research partly blamed a four per cent drop in domestic applications for training places following the abolition of bursaries for nursing students in 2016.
Despite the shortage, the NHS in England is recruiting fewer trained nurses from abroad than in 2001 - around 1,600 currently - and should aim to increase this by an additional 5,000, the report found.
“There is big competition across the world these days for nursing staff because there is a global shortage,” said Mr Murray, who was formerly director of strategy at the Department of Health.
“NHS bosses should not rely solely on recruitment agencies to find overseas staff.
“They should play an active role in the effort, working across regions to coordinate efforts."
On top of difficulties attracting foreign nurses to the NHS in the first place, trusts often struggle to retain the staff beyond one or two years. Mr Murray said this is because foreign nurses too often arrive lacking a clear idea of what living and working in Britain will be like, particularly those recruited to rural areas.
The report found that trusts such as Yeovil District Hospital have surmounted this by sending senior staff on up to three recruitment drives in a single year to the Philippines and Dubai, where they were able to personally advocate the merits of life in rural Somerset.
At one point last year the trust did not have a single nursing vacancy on any of its wards. It is now recruiting on behalf of several other NHS organisations, a model already adopted in the North of England.
“They [hospital managers ] are best placed to assess applicants and can offer an honest opinion of life in the UK and the realities of working in the NHS,” said Murray.
“This approach has benefits for the new recruit and the NHS. “It allows overseas professionals to make an informed decision about whether to relocate to the UK, and it helps NHS trusts to select applicants who are attracted to the qualities of their local area.”
Critics have accused clunky visa rules for applicants from non-European Economic Area countries for hampering the recruitment effort.
However, some of these have been recently relaxed, such as a cap on the number of workers in certain salary groups.
So-called Tier 2 visas demand a £30,000 minimum salary, but the Home Office has confirmed that the nursing will remain on a shortage occupation exemption list until 2021, when the policy will be reviewed.