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Italian nurses fill hospital vacancies in Canterbury, Ashford and Margate at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust

Hospitals bosses in east Kent are recruiting Italian nurses to plug a shortfall of local staff.

The hospitals trust is responding to a recommendation by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to raise standards in Canterbury, Ashford and Margate by hiring extra frontline medical staff.

After the CQC plunged the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust into special measures in August, chief executive Stuart Bain reacted by announcing the investment of £2.9 million to recruit 69 nurses.

The Kent and Canterbury Hospital
The Kent and Canterbury Hospital

But there are concerns within the trust that those being brought in from Italy are not fully qualified and have poor language skills.

And one nursing expert says many foreign nurses work in east Kent for a year before escaping to other parts of the world where there is higher pay.

Hospitals trust spokesman Gemma Shillito said: “We are extremely grateful to a number of Italian nurses who have moved to Kent recently to work in our hospitals.

“Despite us employing a significant number of newly-qualified nurses every year and our rolling programme of active recruitment within the UK, there is a national shortage of qualified nurses that has led to some of our posts being fulfilled by internationally qualified nurses.

“The nurses who recently arrived from Italy are not employed directly by the trust.

“They were recruited by NHS Professionals, an organisation that provides bank nurses for us.”

The trust insists that the Italian nurses are not paid more than those directly employed by it.

A campaigner is warning of a shortage of new nurses
A campaigner is warning of a shortage of new nurses

The annual rate for their level is £22,903.

Peggy Pryer from Bridge worked as a nurse in Kent for 35 years.

She said: “It is right that they are getting nurses in, but there can be language problems with those from places like Spain, Italy or Portugal.

“But one has to question how qualified or experienced they are. What we really need is experience staff.

“The other thing that happens is they come here for about a year, improve their English and then go to places like Australia, New Zealand and Canada where the pay and conditions for nurses are better.”

Mrs Pryer added that the work culture within the trust could be blamed for a shortage of nurses.

“It’s a conveyor belt in there,” she said.

“They leave because they’ve had enough of it.

Trust chief executive Stuart Bain
Trust chief executive Stuart Bain

“And for the trust to claim – as it did following the publication of the CQC report – that it was unaware of the culture of bullying is nonsense. This was pointed out to the trust two years ago, but they did not accept it.”

In August, the CQC placed the trust into special measures after identifying a number of serious failings, including a shortage of nurses.

The others were a long-standing culture of bullying and harassment among staff, children being put at risk by a lack of trained staff, poorly managed departments with a disconnect between trust bosses and frontline staff and patients discharged too early from the emergency centre in order to meet targets.

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