News, Culture & Society

Training nurses in Eastern Europe ‘could solve the NHS staffing crisis’

Training nurses in Eastern Europe and hiring them in the NHS could fix the health service’s staffing crisis, recruiters claim.

The cost of training a nurse in Poland is a third of what it is in the UK and ‘not enough people want to go into nursing’ here, a London-based agency has said.

As many as 40,000 extra nurses could be hired from universities around the EU if the NHS would agree to help educate and employ them.

But Hunter Miller, the agency suggesting the link-up, said NHS bosses haven’t warmed to the idea despite their ongoing struggle to recruit more staff.

Uncertainty about Brexit could be putting hospitals off the idea, but the agency said hospitals hadn’t said this explicitly.

The suggestion comes after the Nursing and Midwifery Council this week announced English language tests will be made easier to encourage foreign nurses, and figures recently revealed there are 42,000 vacant nursing posts in the NHS.

Recruiting nurses from Eastern Europe could help plug the staffing gap, according to a recruiter who said the prospect of a job in the NHS would encourage more people to train as nurses in countries like Poland and Bulgaria – there are currently around 42,000 vacant nursing job posts in the NHS 

‘The problem in the UK is that not enough people want to go into nursing,’ Nick Miller, general manager for international recruitment at Hunter Miller, told the Nursing Times.

‘In Poland there are plenty of people who would go into nursing, but they can go and work in a shop and get just as much money quickly without having to go through a training programme.’

Mr Miller suggested his company could link NHS trusts to universities and colleges across the EU to train and recruit more nurses for the UK.

People living in those countries would be offered jobs in the NHS which would both fill vacant training places in Europe and vacant jobs in the UK.

In exchange for the job offer the NHS would be allowed some control over what was taught in the training courses, to match them to UK requirements.

But uncertainty over the future of the NHS and foreign relations after Brexit could be making the health service hesitant to commit to the idea.

The number of EU nurses registering to work in the NHS fell dramatically in the six months after the Brexit vote.

And senior nurses have warned the health service will be hit harder if the Government doesn’t guarantee staff from overseas can stay after Brexit.

It was revealed this month that some NHS hospitals will be forking out for visas so they can keep nursing staff from the European Union.

Three hospital trusts in London have agreed to pay for the visas of 1,300 EU staff to keep them in work, which is expected to cost more than £100,000.

Mr Miller believes more people in the EU would train to become nurses if they knew it came with a realistic prospect of working in the NHS, where pay is higher.

‘If they can get £2,000 a month as opposed to 400 Euros and someone like me can say, “these are all the jobs you can do once you qualify as registered nurse in the NHS’”, they are going to think about it,’ he said.


The shortage of NHS staff in England is continuing to worsen, official figures show.   

Figures published by the regulator, NHS Improvement, for the April to June period showed that 11.8% of nurse posts were not filled – a shortage of nearly 42,000.

According to Health Education England, around 33,000 of these positions are filled temporarily by agency staff – an unwelcome extra expense for local NHS trusts. 

A report by three leading health sector think-tanks estimates that if demand rises as predicted, the NHS will need 250,000 additional staff by 2030.

But if skilled workers cannot be attracted from abroad the shortage could reach 350,000 – roughly a quarter of the 1.2million workforce. 

Experts say low pay and long hours are two of the main factors which make finding nursing staff difficult. This, paired with student debt, makes the profession unappealing for young people. 

Of those quitting, more than half are under 40, with many citing stress and rising workloads for being behind their decision to leave.

In January the Royal College of Nursing warned the NHS was ‘haemorrhaging nurses’, as around 3,000 more nurses quit their jobs than started new ones in 2017.

Mr Miller said he already has five colleges in Poland and Bulgaria, and two NHS hospitals, in discussions, but has been ‘astonished’ by the lack of interest here.

For years the NHS has been struggling to recruit enough nurses and the Royal College of Nursing said a recent rise in job adverts was ‘very worrying’.

In January the body said the NHS was ‘haemorrhaging nurses’, as around 3,000 more nurses quit their jobs than started new ones in 2017.

Many job vacancies are filled by temporary agency staff, who are more expensive because agencies have to be paid finders’ fees on top of staff wages.

The NHS is keen to encourage more foreign nurses to apply for jobs and the Nursing and Midwifery Council this week revealed it would make English language tests easier.

They have proposed a slight drop in the level of written English required – from level seven to 6.5 – because applicants from abroad are ‘just missing out’ on current requirements.   

Fewer people are applying to nursing courses at universities, too, after the Government stopped offering a funding bursary to help students afford tuition.

Previously, student nurses could expect up to £6,500 a year from the NHS to help fund their three-year degree, but this was scrapped in 2017.

‘It costs a third of the price to train a nurse in Poland than it does in the NHS,’ Mr Miller added.

He explained foreign governments might take issue with the UK poaching their nurses, but said even reimbursing some of the cost of university courses could be cheaper than the NHS training its own nurses.

‘There is no reason why the NHS could not do deals with the national health services of Poland or Hungary to say, “for each nurse that is employed by the NHS, we’ll reimburse you some of the cost per year of the training of that nurse”,’ he told the Nursing Times.

Mr Miller said the fact his agency isn’t a mainstream supplier for the NHS, or uncertainty over Brexit, could be reasons why the NHS hasn’t taken up his offer.

He has spoken to more than 30 hospitals and NHS Improvement, Health Education England, NHS England and the Royal College of Nursing but ‘gained no traction whatsoever’.

Hunter Miller has already worked with the North East and East Midlands ambulance services to hire, train and relocate paramedics from EU countries.

And because the training would focus on extra English language skills and integrating employees, he believes new hires would be more likely to stay long-term. 

Mr Miller said one of the hospitals he is in negotiations with already has 450 empty nursing jobs.

He believes linking up with European institutions can ‘get rid of that problem once and for all’ then scale up to the wider NHS.


Plans to increase numbers of trainee nurses amid an NHS staffing crisis have failed, nursing leaders claimed earlier this year.

The number of those applying to nursing degrees fell by a third in two years, from 43,730 in 2016 to 29,360 in February, a Royal College of Nursing report revealed.

The college blames a Government decision to scrap grants worth £20,000 for future nurses and midwives and replace them with loans. 

The move was announced in 2015 and ministers claimed the money saved would pay for extra nurse training places.

Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN, said the Government had ‘squandered’ the chance to address the crisis, adding: ‘The Government knows that when there aren’t enough nurses, patients can pay the very highest price.’ 

She called on ministers to ‘redouble efforts’ to attract students with fair pay and other incentives. 


Comments are closed.