Health Education England plans to spend almost £5m to attract thousands of nurses back into the NHS, HSJ can reveal.

The funding will be used by the national education and training body to cover the full cost of return to practice courses and offer guaranteed placements in NHS trusts.

It will also be used to cover expenses for returning nurses including travel, childcare and books.

The £4.7m investment will be spread over three years, with £2m due to be spent this financial year, £1.5m earmarked for 2015-16 and £1.2m in 2016-17.

HEE’s push on return to practice recruitment comes at a time of widespread staff shortages with many NHS trusts forced to recruit staff overseas.

The body has already increased the number of pre-registration nurse training places at universities by 9 per cent this year.

The Come Back campaign, due to launch on Monday, significantly extends HEE’s statutory duty, which only covers the education and training of the future healthcare workforce.

The Francis report into failures at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust and new requirements on safe staffing have helped drive the recruitment of an extra 8,700 nurses in the NHS since August last year.

Research by HEE earlier this year found nurses looking to return to the NHS had to fund the cost themselves, often struggled to find courses in their areas and had to arrange placements with NHS trusts themselves.

Nurses who returned to practice often had lower drop out rates and stayed in the job until they retired, the research also found.

Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, director of nursing at HEE and chair of the return to practice steering group, said the project would not tackle the shortage of nurses in the NHS on its own.

“This is a quick way to get nurses into the system; HEE has taken the lead and pulled the system together,” she said.

“It is the right thing to do.

“Our role in the system is to enable the right people to get to the right place at the right time, and this has been our rationale for this project.”

Jan Stevens, HEE national director for West Midlands who led the work for HEE, said: “We have listened to experiences from up and down the country and we have worked hard to address the issues which have been preventing successful returns to practice.”