South Africa prepares to fight off nurse poachers from England

The call comes after NHS leaders signalled their intention to ramp up overseas recruitment of nurses as a short-term measure to address widespread shortages.

“The increase in the effort of recruiting nurses by England will make it easy for local nurses to leave”

Simon Hlungwani

A report published last week by three influential health think tanks – the Health Foundation, King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust – warned of a 70,000 nurse shortfall by 2023-24 unless action was taken.

This included boosting international recruitment with England needing to secure an additional 5,000 overseas nurse each year up to 2023-24.

Meanwhile, the long-term plan for the NHS in England, published earlier this year, signalled a “step change” in overseas recruitment with “several thousand” more nurses expected to come from other countries over the next five years.

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) said it feared many nurses from South Africa would seize the opportunity to leave, tempted by higher wages and better working conditions in the NHS.

According to reports in South African media, the body has urged the country’s National Department of Health to put an urgent staff retention plan in place to stop this happening.

“The increase in the effort of recruiting nurses by England will make it easy for local nurses to leave for greener pastures because the conditions they work under in South Africa are extremely poor and demotivating, to say the least,” said Denosa president Simon Hlungwani, quoted in The Star newspaper.

Nurses also quoted in the article confirmed they would be eager to come to the UK because they were struggling to find employment.

“There is a situation where one nurse does the job of three nurses”

Khaya Xaba

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union warned there were already nursing shortages in South Africa.

“There is a situation where one nurse does the job of three nurses,” said national spokesman Khaya Xaba.

“We also appeal to our government to ensure they look into the conditions of the facilities and the salaries of the employees to avoid the loss of our nurses to the UK,” he added.

NHS leaders and observers have stressed the need for “ethical recruitment” schemes that avoid stripping low and middle income countries of much-needed nursing skills. These include “train-and-return” schemes that would see overseas nurses coming to work in the NHS for a set period of time before going back to work their home nation.

The Closing the Gap report from the three think tanks said “government-to-government agreements” were one way to mitigate risks.

“An international recruitment programme should be designed in conjunction with both professional regulators and international governments to ensure that they are sustainable,” said the report.

It said the UK government also needed to think carefully about its role in supporting the global nursing and wider healthcare workforce.

“Given the issues with the international workforce, in the longer term, the government should think about its role in the international workforce and consider how the skills of domestically trained staff can be exported to support the resilience of other countries’ workforces,” said the report.