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Integrating international nurses ‘vital’ to retain staff amidst rising vacancies

A new report has called for effective strategies to integrate and retain overseas nurses to fill the UK's high number of nursing vacancies.

A new study by the University of Huddersfield and NHS England shows that with a record high of more than 23,000 nurses recruited from abroad by NHS trusts in 2021-22 to fill in the rising nursing shortage, it is critical for the NHS to acknowledge their diversities and implement strategies to improve retention.

In the NHS, 72.3% of international nurses are professionally qualified and trained but face challenges with communication, cultural norms and socialisation in the workplace because of inadequate support structures to help them integrate.

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‘I am still trying to cope with the accents in UK. Everyone speaks very fast, and I always ask them to repeat what I don’t understand during conversations,’ said one of the nurses interviewed in the study.

 ‘I have passed the International English Language Test, but the slang and the dialects make it difficult for me to communicate with my colleagues. And I am always very conscious of how I speak. I wish I was given some training.’

The study states that workplace mentorship, co-worker support and orientations on cultural and linguistic diversity and inclusion are key organisational strategies that promote integration of staff, professional competence, well-being and retention of international nurses.

‘The Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is a great example of workplace support in practice,’ Dr Sally Arrey, a co-researcher in the study from the University of Huddersfield told Independent Nurse.

The trust pairs overseas nurses with peer mentors to support them with terms and dialect – both clinical terms that they may not be familiar with (for example nil by mouth), and a basic A to Z of medical terms, times and units. They are also helped with local vocabulary to overcome language barriers with other staff and patients.

‘I was told to include things like “brew” for a cup of tea, “nowt” for nothing and “ta” for thank you, said a Filipino nurse working in the trust. ‘Now I feel more capable and comfortable with my mentor’s support.’

The UK Government claims to be on target to meet its manifesto commitment to recruit 50,000 more nurses by 2024; But with about half of these nurses recruited from abroad, ‘‘it is essential we have policies to integrate international nurses and support them professionally and socially, which are important retention factors,’ said Dr Arrey.