Care home bosses dismiss fears Brexit could worsen nursing workforce crisis

Care home bosses have dismissed fears Brexit could exacerbate the nursing workforce crisis, saying EU nurses are expensive to recruit, retention rates are low and they don’t want to live in the areas where shortages are.

Care homes in the UK have been struggling to attract nurses for some time, with the National Audit Office recently revealing that one in 11 nursing posts in the care sector in England is vacant, after the number of nurses fell by 8,000 to 43,000 over the last four years.

It is a similar picture in Scotland, where Scottish Care has said some care homes are being forced to pay up to £1,000 per shift for an agency nurse, with nearly a third of nursing posts vacant. In Wales, some care homes have been forced to close due to being unable to recruit nurses, according to Care Forum Wales.

Care England, Scottish Care and Care Forum Wales have voiced fears the situation could worsen post Brexit, with care homes losing their EU nurses.

Recruiting EU nurses is not a magic bullet

However bosses of large care home groups such as Barchester Healthcare and Hallmark Care Homes say they have given up recruiting nurses from the EU as they haven’t proved to be the magic bullet they had hoped.

Pete Calveley, chief executive of Barchester, spoke at the Future of Care conference, saying: “We spent quite a while recruiting lots of EU nurses. It was very expensive and very unrewarding. The average cost of recruiting a nurse was £8,000 and the average time they spent with us was six months.”

He revealed that one of the problems is “we struggle to recruit in certain rural areas in Scotland but these are also areas where EU nurses don’t want to live. They want to live in cities such as London or Edinburgh”.

Consequently he believes it is “important that care providers appeal to a wider group of nurses than those in the EU and we have to become more attractive as employers”.

“Nurses have to feel why would they want to go elsewhere,” he added.

‘Retention of EU nurses was poor’

Joan Elliot, general manager of UK Care Services, backed up Dr Calveley’s comments, saying: “We have found the same. We recruited from the EU and found retention of EU nurses was poor.”

However she was quick to point out that in terms of the EU nurses that Bupa does have, she would like more concrete reassurances from the Government over their rights to stay.

Avnish Goyal, managing director of Hallmark Care Homes, revealed that they too have “recruited from the EU and had a bad experience in terms of retention and we have had the same issue with costs.

“We have also found the settling in period for EU nurses is much longer than for UK nurses as they have to adjust to the language and the culture.”

He questioned why care homes are taking nurses from other countries, saying: “We need to be growing our own nurses and providing the funding to help people train to become nurses. You need to offer nurses good career progression then you can attract them into the sector”.

EU nurses are ‘still a valuable resource for care homes’

Despite these comments from leading care providers, Martin Green, chief executive of Care England believes EU nurses are still a valuable resource for care homes.

He said “The recruitment and retention of nurses, and indeed care staff, is one of the biggest challenges facing our sector. In a post Brexit world, we need the Government to streamline administration and bureaucracy and enable our sector to attract high quality nurses from across the globe.

“Brexit is already having an effect on nurse recruitment, though this is not only because of Brexit, but also because of the fall in the value of the pound which makes it less advantageous for European citizens to work in the UK.”

New data from Skills for Care shows that currently seven per cent (95,000) of the social care workforce in the UK are from the EU.