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A call for New Zealand to recruit nurses from the United Kingdom is being supported by a chronically understaffed industry which is putting patients and nurses at risk.

Geneva Healthcare permanent staffing manager Shane King said the country has a need for an increase in highly skilled nurses and employing UK nurses could help.

“District Health Boards and hospitals are looking to employ nurses to help with the shortage right around the country.

“There are claims that nurses are stressed by working double shifts, which could raise concerns about whether they are putting their patients’ lives at risk.”

King recently returned from the UK where he met with nurses, midwives and Allied Health professionals who had a desire to relocate to New Zealand.

“Geneva Healthcare now has a database of over 100 UK nurses and health professionals looking for opportunities within New Zealand hospitals and health organisations, and maybe that can help bridge the gap for nurses in New Zealand.”

Using nurses from the United Kingdom could be a good solution to finding highly experienced and skilled nurses not always available here, he said.

“Health professionals from the UK are a great fit for New Zealand due to a similar health system, ease of registration between the two countries, and no language barriers.

“Current visa processing times are allowing those hired to relocate within a four-month turnaround time.”

One of the anonymous Nurse Florence founders of the ‘New Zealand, please hear our voice’ Facebook page said they would support the idea of using any well-trained internationally acquired nurses to help with the nursing shortage.

“Some benefits of hiring more UK nurses specifically would be (based on my own experience); their excellent training, similar culture to the majority of our patients, good communication skills, they’re used to high patient loads, they’re generally highly skilled and posses a similar sense of humour (essential for nursing).

“My only concern would be in keeping them here. The rate of UK nationals immigrating into New Zealand is decreasing and the rates of UK immigrants returning home is increasing, many citing the high cost of living in New Zealand.

“Until nursing becomes a more appreciated and financially rewarding career, we won’t be able to hold on to the ones we have.”

However, hiring more nurses would not solve the shortage problem because so many are needed.

“Employing the 100 UK healthcare professionals currently on Geneva Healthcare’s books would of course be beneficial.

“However the 500 new healthcare staff promised by the government during the DHB MECA negotiations last year really didn’t even touch the sides.

“Working double shifts isn’t the only issue, the pure number of very unwell patients we have each is incredibly harmful.”

This issue has been well-researched and all evidence suggests the more patients a nurse has the less safe the patients and nurse are.

“We want the very best for our patients and in some wards; they’re getting the bare minimum.”

Making nursing a financially good option for school leavers, more active recruiting and, perhaps, free study, could be other solutions, the nurse said.

New Zealand Nurses Association associate professional services manager Hilary Graham-Smith said while there is a preference for a home-grown workforce this is not realistic as employers, especially DHBs, are struggling to recruit New Zealand-educated nurses.

“We have just recently managed to get the government to agree to 100 per cent employment of all new graduate nurses in the nurse entry to practice programmes and a supported into practice programme for enrolled nurses.

“That said we do need senior experienced nurses and sometimes some of those recruited have particular clinical specialty skill that an employer might be looking for.

“Without senior experienced nurses we get a skill mix imbalance which isn’t ideal.

“We have quite a large group of potential retirees in the workforce at present so maintaining that skill mix will be challenging.”

New Zealand’s nursing workforce already comprises 27 per cent internationally qualified nurses (the highest in the OECD) with most coming from India or the Philippines but many are also from the UK, she said.

“Nurses from the UK are educated in a system similar to our own so they tend to fit in quite well.”

There is currently a global nursing shortage (the UK is short of about 35,000 nurses) so many countries are recruiting outside their borders.

“It is something of an ethical dilemma globally and as a profession we are acutely aware of not deliberately undermining the workforce of other countries,” Graham-Smith said.

The UK has recently been in NZ recruiting and New Zealand does the same in the UK.

“Nurses like lots of other people like to travel and nursing registration is very useful in terms of being able to have an income while seeing the world,” she said.

“There will always be an exchange of nurses across borders as they do their OE or seek experience of working in another country, better wages and conditions – the grass is always greener.”

International nurses must apply to the Nursing Council to practice in New Zealand.

It has a number of requirements to ensure nurses seeking registration in New Zealand have educational equivalency.

The requirements include proof of identity, passing an English language test, a relevant qualification, current overseas registration, at least two years’ post-registration experience, two years’ nursing practice in the last five, demonstration of fitness for registration as a nurse and many nurses will need to successfully complete a Competency Assessment Programme.

Overseas nurses wishing to work in New Zealand also usually need to apply to for a work visa through Immigration New Zealand.

In May, aged care nurses were added to the long term skills shortage list (LTSSL) which identifies skilled occupations where there is a sustained and ongoing shortage of works in New Zealand and globally.

However, other registered and enrolled nurses are not on this list but are classified under skilled migrant category dependant on criteria such as remuneration thresholds.

The Immigration New Zealand website states that 25,000 more nurses will be needed by 2030.

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