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Shortage of nurses is a global issue

Tagged In:  Nursing

It's not just the UK that's facing the challenge of a nursing shortage. So is there anything we can learn from the experience of other countries?

There's been much talk recently about the growing shortage of nurses in the UK. As we reported in this blog post, the Government has relaxed the restrictions on nurse recruitment from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to help address the problem. However, following the recent Brexit vote, health chiefs have been warning about the implications for the NHS of restricting immigration from EU countries. In a recent interview with Nursing Times, Jackie Smith, Chief Executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), pointed out that 10 times more nurses come to the UK from the EU than from the rest of the world.

Of course, nursing shortages are not confined to our shores. As long ago as 2006, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) was warning of a global nursing shortage, which they said posed 'unprecedented challenges for policy makers and planners in high and low income countries alike'. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has projected a deficit of 12.9 million healthcare workers worldwide by 2035.

Possible solutions include policy change, more funding, better workforce planning, improved working conditions and initiatives to promote the recruitment of nurses and retention. So what's the picture in other countries? How are they addressing the problem?


America has experienced nursing shortages for decades, but a rapidly ageing population and workforce are making things much worse. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.2 million registered nurse vacancies are expected by 2022. However, Ed Salsburg, a researcher at the George Washington University School of Nursing sees it as a 'problem of distribution' rather than nurse recruitment, with under-supply in some states and over-supply in others. This is supported by the 2012 United States Registered Nurse Workforce Report, which showed that states like Florida and Arizona are disproportionately affected by ageing populations, while in others it's about lack of education opportunities.

South Africa

The Democratic Alliance party has called for a parliamentary enquiry into the state of nursing to find out how education and workforce planning can be improved. The country needs over 44,000 more nurses and only just over 3,000 have enrolled this year for the South African Nursing Council (SANC) degree course.


The Republic lost many of its trained nurses to other countries because of a recruitment embargo imposed on hospitals by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in 2009. Although the number of nursing jobs has gone up recently and the HSE has promised to continue increasing nurse recruitment, there is still some way to go to reach the pre-2009 level.


Facing a shortfall of around 60,000 full-time registered nurses by 2022, Canada has increased training places, expanded the nursing role and encouraged nurses to be more flexible about specialisation. As a result, the total nursing workforce is steadily growing.
During the EU referendum campaign, there was much talk of an Australian-style points-based model for immigration. It's worth noting that, because of their own shortage of workers in certain occupations, Australia prioritises them in their 'skilled permanent visa' system. This includes not only nurses and doctors, but also allied health professionals such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists, radiographers and sonographers. Presumably our government would look at a similar system to continue welcoming trained nurses from across Europe. 

At Sanctuary we recruit for a wide variety of locum nursing jobs on behalf of NHS trusts across the UK and we are on a number of frameworks as a preferred supplier to the NHS. 

We're here to support registered nurses in finding suitable short, medium or long-term contracts in both hospital and community settings. See our latest vacancies here.

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