The government has announced a recruitment drive to attract new NHS nurses from Jamaica despite the unfolding scandal over the deportation of Windrush generation Britons after decades in the UK.
In the second phase of “earn, learn, return” partnerships, Jamaican nurses will come to work in the NHS for a fixed term of around three years and then return with new skills and experience, the Government said.
The scheme is intended to increase the NHS workforce by 5,500 full time nurses and help address a record 34,000 unfilled nursing and midwifery posts across the health service in England.
In November last year ministers announced the scheme’s first partnership with India and the aim of recruiting 500 nurses by March, though the Department of Health could not immediately confirm if that had been achieved.
But nursing chiefs said it was a short-term solution to staffing shortages caused by years of pay restraint and the removal of bursaries for new nurse trainees, and said urgent investment was needed in the UK training.
They added that Jamaican nurses were already very highly trained, and usually have at least four years training compared to three in the NHS, and said perhaps English staff would have more to learn from them.
However the Department of Health said the programme will support the Jamaican government in improving the knowledge and capability of their staff, particularly in areas like emergency medicine and intensive care.
The new deal comes in a week where Theresa May and home secretary Amber Rudd have come under significant pressure for threatening to deport British residents, and their descendents, where they arrived from the Commonwealth before 1973.
Problems reached crisis point thanks to a “hostile environment” policy instigated by Ms May when she was home secretary, and the Home Office’s destruction of landing cards of Windrush immigrants, which could prove their residency status.
The new scheme will also offer NHS staff the chance to visit the Jamaican and Indian health services, but not on the same scale, and an exchange partnership is also being worked on with the Philippines.
Donna Kinnair, director of nursing at the Royal College of Nursing, said that while the college supports “sharing skills and learning with colleagues across the world” this must not deprive poorer countries of vital health workers.
“Ministers can’t just look to compensate for past and current policy mistakes through time-limited immigration schemes,” she added.
“The government needs to make urgent investment decisions to grow and retain our domestic workforce, while fostering opportunities for nursing staff across the world to share skills and expertise.
“The government must be also be careful not to patronise nurses who trained in Jamaica, where training standards are very high.”
Health minister Stephen Barclay said: “The NHS is blazing a trail in healthcare across the world and it is testament to the skills and expertise of our dedicated nurses that other countries are vying for their knowledge to help improve their own services.”
“I’m delighted that we’re partnering with Jamaica in this scheme, which will build on our existing collaboration with India, and further demonstrates the government’s commitment to forging new international relationships in preparation for the UK to leave the European Union.”