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Nursing homes struggle to fill vacancies as nurses from Eastern Europe opt for Germany

Author: EasternEuropeans 2015
Historically, in the 65 plus years since it's inception the NHS has seen a significant growth in foreign medical staff working in it's facilities. Medical staff have joined the ranks of the NHS from all over the world, and nursing homes have been no exception. The opening of the UK positions to worker in eastern EU countries has meant that positions in nursing homes were opened up to Polish and Romanian nurses, and their proportion within the nursing home workforce increased as a result.

Migration has continued to a point where migrant staff now makes up a significant proportion of medical staff in the UK. In fact, a recent poll by think tank 'British Future' found that almost 3 quarters of respondents believed that the NHS simply wouldn't be able to survive in it's current form without foreign doctors and nurses. An additional finding of the survey was that the public perception was that the service the NHS provides has improved as a result of the foreign injection. Diversity in skills, techniques and technologies have driven care improvement, and public perception has improved as a result. However, with that perception has come a significant dependence on foreign workers. Nursing homes have become increasingly reliant on Polish and Romanian nurses since 2004 due to their influx into the workforce. In more recent times however migrants who have previously entered the UK are leaving in droves and new migrants are not replacing them. The Romanian and Polish nurses, who were once so prominent are thinning out and moving elsewhere, with Germany being the destination of choice.


While other countries are experiencing tough times, Germany is one of the few countries in the EU that is experiencing growth. While countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy are struggling financially and are in the midst of a deep and long recession, Germany is experiencing a relative 'boom time'. It has been able to maintain this growth by providing investment in growth industries, with manufacturing providing the driving force for it's growth. This in turn has necessitated additional resourcing, and a larger workforce. In order to satisfy this growth, Germany is taking part in a massive recruitment drive, and nursing is no exception.

In order to attract new workers the German government has set aside an immigration fund of 140m. The fund is designed to help with everything to allow an easy transition into German life. With support including language classes, finding accommodation, help cutting through red tape and paying travel and relocation costs. Besides financial incentives, Germany is also closer in proximity to many of the home countries of these skilled migrants. This provides a significant advantage as many people from the eastern block are brought up with close family ties. The ability to easily return to their homeland for short breaks can provide a powerful incentive, and the German government is using this to their advantage to attract it's workforce.

In general the registration requirements for nursing in Germany are simpler, and more transferable than the equivalent position in UK institutions. In many cases registration only requires nurses to pass a state registration exam and German language exam (assuming that they already have an EU recognised nursing certification). As an added bonus registration does not need to be performed prior to arrival in Germany. With newer facilities, cutting edge equipment and a programs actively attracting investment and development, working conditions are also often an improvement. This provides further incentive for EU nurses who may be considering making the transition to Germany.

The problem isn't confined to UK, Greece and Spain and are experiencing similar issues. High unemployment in these countries has led to mass emigration as individuals search for a better life. It is suspected that some EU nurses from these countries may also be making the migration to German facilities. The real question is how can the tide of EU nurses leaving these countries be stemmed.

Additional incentives need to be put into place into place in the order to attract new migrants and keep existing staff. Although additional funding has been allocated to some centres it does not go far enough. In July the Welsh government announced plans to fund an additional 10m for nursing staff in Welsh hospitals. Although this only covers a small proportion of the population it pales in comparison to Germany's 140m immigration fund.

Additional flexibility, such as a relaxed registration system as practices in Germany would also make it more appealing for nurses to choose work in UK nursing homes. In addition, assistance with immigration issues and relocation costs could be also be of benefit. The problem of proximity is not an easy one to solve, but issues could likely be alleviated through better communication with the migrant community.

Stemming the tide of nurses leaving UK nursing homes is a complex issue, and requires a comprehensive plan to combat. One thing is for sure, as long as there are more incentives to leave than there are to stay the tide will continue.