We have large numbers of foreign nurses in our NHS – and thank heavens they’re there, or we should be in trouble. Now the government’s new immigration curbs will place a further obstacle in the way of recruitment.
But this raises an interesting question – why do we need such huge numbers of foreign nurses to keep the NHS going? And here’s the killer – a recent report says that two thirds of applicants for UK nursing training are turned down. I find that an extraordinary figure.
We used to have different qualifications for nurses – I think they were called State Registered Nurse and State Enrolled Nurse, and they required different levels of qualification. Now all nurses must have degrees.
Of course there are some nursing tasks, like assisting surgeons in operating theatres, which require a high degree of medical knowledge and competence. But there are also tasks – so often we hear that they’re not always carried out – which primarily require empathy and care and hard work, in looking after bed-ridden patients, but don’t require extensive medical training or academic qualifications. To ask all nurses to have degrees seems to me to rule out many thousands who would do a great job of caring for patients. It’s a bit like saying that on an aeroplane, all the cabin staff should have pilots’ qualifications. (OK, not exactly, but I hope you get my point).
So let me put some more interesting questions. Do we think that all those foreign nurses from Asia or Africa were more suitable candidates, when they entered training in their home country, than those tens of thousands of British girls we’ve rejected? Are we confident that the foreign nurses, as hired, are necessarily better nurses than those rejected applicants would have been after training? And do we think we have the moral right to plunder the health services of poorer countries, poaching the nurses that those countries have trained at great expense?
This article first published in Roger Helmer’s July 2015 newsletter.