HOSPITAL bosses are looking abroad to tackle staffing shortages that have seen hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on expensive temporary workers.

Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust is shipping in a number of experienced Spanish nurses, with 20 set to start work over the next few weeks. The trust has also recruited 40 newly-qualified nurses from closer to home as it bids to tackle a monthly nursing wage bill that soared to £7.5 million in September – £350,000 more than even the busiest winter months last year, when hospitals were full to capacity.

The recruitment drive has already slashed the nursing wage bill by more than £30,000 a week and cut the use of agency nurses – which often cost three or four times as much as their NHS equivalents – by more than half.

While it has no difficulty recruiting newly-trained nurses, the trust says it has been having real difficulties in attracting experienced staff. Chief executive Penny Venables said: “In the two years that I have been here this is the first time that we have been abroad for nurses, although it is something that we have done in the past.

“With what is happening across Europe there is a lot of interest from Spain and Greece and countries where there are economic challenges.” Mrs Venables said all nursing applicants have to pass thorough tests proving their grasp of English.

“It is something that every trust is doing and we would not rule out doing it again in areas where we have difficulties recruiting.”

The trust has not encountered the same difficulties when it comes to recruiting junior nurses, with Mrs Venables citing its “excellent links” with the University of Worcester. “I don’t think we have as much of a problem with recruitment here in Worcestershire as they do elsewhere, for instance in the bigger cities where there are several different hospitals,” she said. “I am confident that the majority of nursing and midwifery students trained locally come to us.” The acute trust still has about 50 nursing vacancies, which new chief nursing officer Lindsey Webb said is a normal position for it to be in.Director of human resources and organisational development, Bev Edgar, welcomed the new arrivals.

“The overseas supply will start to eradicate our dependency on agency staff over the busy winter months, which is where we wanted to be,” she said.