Wednesday, October 21, 1998 Published at 08:06 GMT 09:06 UK
Foreign nurses in UK 'could double'
The Lib Dems say more pay will bring new British nurses into the NHS
The number of foreign nurses working in the UK could double unless the government increases nurses' pay, the Liberal Democrats have warned.
Simon Hughes, the Lib Dems' health spokesman, predicts a quarter of the 15,000 extra nurses the government plans over the next three years will have to come from abroad.
This will double the number of foreign nurses working in the NHS to 8,000.
He said pay was a key factor in attracting new British nurses into the system and tackling the nursing recruitment crisis.
However, the headline rate of inflation - which includes mortgages - is currently running at 3.2%.
"The government must at least pay this rate, and without staging like last year, or they will be penalising nurses financially for working in the NHS," said Mr Hughes.
"Without paying nurses properly, they won't keep the NHS going."
He added that the NHS would also be forced to rely more on agency nurses to fill the new vacancies if pay was not improved.
A recent Royal College of Nursing (RCN) report says the NHS in England is already spending £192m a year on agency nurses.
The government's recommendation to the nurses' pay review body suggested that pay for some nurses, particulary starting grade nurses, should be increased above inflation.
And it has recently agreed that NHS trusts should be able to give merit awards to some senior nurses.
However, nursing unions want an across-the-board pay rise.
The RCN claimed on Tuesday that the nursing shortage crisis - there are currently 8,000 nursing vacancies in the UK - has reduced patient care and safety across the country.