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Overseas recruitment drive sees agency nurse costs tumble

30 May 2024 3 minute read
Morriston Hospital Swansea, image by Sarah M Jones

Richard Youle, local democracy reporter

A hospital’s agency nurse costs have tumbled following the successful recruitment of hundreds of overseas nurses.

Morriston Hospital agency costs were £11.7 million in 2023-24 compared to £20.2 million in 2022-23, a report about nurse staffing levels said.

And agency expenditure for the current financial year – 2024-25 – is forecast to drop further to £3.7 million.

The report said the £3.7 million would be for extra nurses in the emergency department and one-to-one care for patients who needed extra oversight for safety reasons, among other things.

Swansea Bay University Health board has hired around 500 overseas nurses in recent years – 20 of whom have subsequently left – and also taken on more student nurses. Many of the overseas nurses have come from India.

Challenges remain

But recruitment and retention challenges remain and agency nurse costs at Singleton Hospital and Neath Port Talbot Hospital have not fallen as much as at Morriston, although no figures were provided in the report. It added that key recruitment target areas were neonatal nursing, mental health and community nursing, and that there were a number of Band 5 nurse vacancies in paediatric inpatient wards.

The report said: “Skill mix is the big risk area currently as the wards have taken on a large number of internationally-trained nurses and newly-registered nurses that has left a skills gap on ward areas.”

The report concluded that the health board was complying with the Wales-wide Nurse Staffing Levels Act, which covers acute medical and surgical wards and paediatric in-patient wards.

Health board members were told at a meeting that the 20 overseas nurses who had left had gone to other parts of the UK. Exit interviews were offered to them, and a pilot project was under way to try to find out if nurses were thinking of leaving so that steps could be taken to retain them.

Staff turnover

Sarah Jenkins, interim director of workforce and organisational development, said a new retention “lead” had just started work, and that some staff turnover was a good thing. She said: “It’s about making sure that turnover is not out of kilter nationally.”

She added that there was still work to do to help nurses progress through the bands, particularly overseas nurses. Health board chairwoman Emma Woollett said it was important to ensure that ethnicity did not disadvantage nurses in their bid to progress.

Gareth Howells, interim director of nursing and patient experience, was asked how health board thinking was informed for staffing levels in areas not covered by the Nurse Staffing Levels Act. He said there was an assessment framework similar to the act.

The real challenge, he said, was in areas such mental health, low dependency units and, to some extent, maternity services because of their different approach to monitoring care and outcomes. Mr Howells added that 40 overseas mental health nurses were due to join the health board in the next few weeks.

Last year it emerged that 1,585 nurses and midwives left the health board between 2019-20 and 2022-23, with 1,274 joining during the same period.

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22 days ago

One problem gets reduced but is pinching scarce resources from other countries, possibly even more deprived of good health services, an acceptable long term strategy ?. Does the NHS still rely on the various degree courses to build up stocks of qualified nurses when the more cost effective route is to adopt a programme based on apprenticeships leading to Higher Diploma and Degree levels ?. That route is more attractive to people because it yields a salary while training and avoids hefty student loans.

Last edited 22 days ago by hdavies15
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
22 days ago

Two wrongs don’t make a right on many levels here, also how much is taught on the wards and does it match or include what is learnt in the classroom…

The holistic approach would be to replace the Baroness with somebody qualified and ‘enthusiastic’ for this mammoth task…

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
22 days ago

Brexit was supposed to reduce immigration but it hasn’t and never will. European immigration has obviously been reduced but from the rest of the world – no. The country has realised that we need immigrants, every country does. Brexit has failed and we all, particulary our stubborn party leaders, know this. If the hardliners believe in democracy so much – they must know that no decision is forever and a vote to rejoin the EU will eventually have to happen, whether they like it or not. For any new Labour government the first steps must be to begin to repair… Read more »

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