NHS nurses dissatisfied with their pay will be allowed to leave the UK as they could be replaced by foreign recruits, Health Secretary Thérèse Coffey has suggested.
Dr Coffey’s latest inflammatory comments about nurses come as the UK’s nurses’ union 300,000 of its members vote to take strike action over pay.
When asked about British nurses leaving the UK for places like Australia in search of better pay, she told the Evening Standard that they are welcome to do so, and that the UK can recruit more from abroad.
“Of course it’s their choice if they want to do that, but then we also have an open route for people to enter this country who are professional personnel,” she said.
Her comment came just days after she told nurses the government will not budge on NHS payments amid the looming threat of a massive nurse departure.
The bosses of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are demanding that nurses receive a salary increase of at least 5 percent above inflation, which is currently around 12.3 percent.
This would give the average nurse, who earns about £35,600 each year, an extra £6,150.
By comparison, the government has offered NHS nurses a salary increase of around 4 per cent, allowing the average nurse to take home an extra £1,400.
In her latest interview, Dr. Coffey said the government had already taken action to increase the income of working Britons, including to benefit nurses working in the NHS.
The Royal College of Nurses wants nurses to get a 5 percent pay rise above inflation, well above the roughly 4 percent No10 offers
Health Secretary Thérèse Coffey has suggested that nurses dissatisfied with the government’s wage offer could leave the UK freely
WHAT PARTS OF THE NHS CAN BEAT?
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is urging its more than 300,000 members to vote for strike action when polls open next month.
The chairman of the British Medical Association has warned that strikes are ‘inevitable’.
It is possible that 160,000 doctors, consultants and general practitioners walk out.
The Royal College of Midwives will put the union action to a vote from its 50,000 members.
Two-thirds have already said they are ready to go on strike in a preliminary poll.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) said more than eight in 10 of its 60,000 members are willing to go on strike.
Members will be voted on pay for the first time in the 100-year history of the CSP.
“The government has intervened in several ways to help with the cost of living. There was already a package aimed at helping people with low incomes and we expanded this with the energy price guarantee,” she says.
The RCN has repeatedly argued that higher wages are needed to prevent thousands of nurses from leaving the NHS for better-paid work, and to address staff shortages.
Union bosses have previously said the government’s offer is equivalent to an extra 72p per week for nurses, essentially a pay cut given rising inflation.
The comments of Dr. Coffey on relying on international recruitment to fill NHS nurse vacancies are likely to sound the alarm.
While the NHS has for decades used international recruitment to boost the number of nurses, experts have warned that the UK is now over-reliant on hiring nurses from abroad.
Recent data from the UK’s nurses’ regulator, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which requires nurses to register to work in the UK, shows that the number of international recruits has skyrocketed over the past five years.
From April 2021 to March this year, 23,367 internationally trained nurses joined the NMC.
This is more than double last year’s 9,884 and nearly seven times higher than the 2017-18 figure of 3,489.
Shockingly, the number of international nurse recruits is now almost equal to the number of British trained carpenters for the first time.
Between April 2021 and March this year, 25,028 UK trained nurses joined the NMC Nursing Registry for the first time, just 2,000 more than their internationally trained peers.
But experts are heating up this seemingly bottomless source of recruitment that is starting to run out.
They estimate that by 2030 there will be a global shortage of 13 million nurses, with particularly low levels in South East Asia and Africa, two of the UK’s largest areas for nurse recruitment.
International nurse recruitment targets in the UK could also be undermined by the crumbling pound, with the UK currency having recently plummeted on the international stage as part of the economic fallout from the Truss government’s ‘mini-budget’.
Many internationally trained nurses send some of the money they earn back to family members, meaning how much their salary is worth when converted to their home currency can be key in enticing them to the UK.
The strike vote of the RCN closes on 2 November.
A record 40,000 nurses left the NHS in the past year – one in nine of the workforce, according to research by the Nuffield Trust.
Health leaders have warned that staff are resigning to earn better wages in pubs, restaurants and coffee shops to face the cost of living crisis.
Earlier this year, hospitals were forced to set up food banks and voucher programs to help health workers who cannot afford rent, fuel or food.
The latest NHS data shows that around 45,000 nursing posts in England are vacant at the end of June. London has the highest percentage of missing persons, with 15 percent of nursing posts unfilled
India and the Philippines are responsible for the lion’s share of international nurse recruits for 2021-22, but a fifth came from countries on the ‘red list’ where the NHS has no ban on active poaching of nurses. These were Nigeria, Ghana, Nepal and Pakistan. This data, from the UK’s Nursing and Midwifery Council, covers the period before Britain signed a special deal with Nepal to allow the NHS to recruit nurses from the country
The number of internationally trained nurses joining the NHS has skyrocketed in recent years. Numbers have risen year on year, minus a brief spell of the Covid pandemic hampering immigration, data from the Nursing and Midwifery Council shows. The number of international nurses is now almost equal to the number of UK nurses entering the workforce for the first time
As with other employees, nurses cannot be legally fired if they participate in official and lawful union actions.
However, unlike other sectors, some of the nursing staff will continue to work.
This is being carefully negotiated with NHS bosses before the strike to ensure patient safety.
For example, an entire shift, such as an intensive care unit or night shift, can be exempted from the union action and continue to work.
The specific exemptions are being negotiated between each NHS trust and the local RCN strike committee, so it won’t be clear which services may be affected until it gets closer.
Data from the NHS shows efforts to get more nurses into healthcare are barely keeping up with the number of experienced nurses quitting
But there would be minimal staffing to ensure patients have access to emergency care, urgent diagnostic procedures, and that they are not at risk of death or disability.
The RCN’s £6,150 pay raise is based on a 17 per cent increase over the government’s estimate of an average nurse salary of £35,600.
Many NHS nurses, such as those at entry level, earn considerably less than this, currently around £25,500, while senior professionals will earn more.