Published: 30/05/2002, Volume II2, No. 5807 Page 10

Disillusioned overseas nurses are going home without having worked in the UK because of long delays obtaining UK registration from the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

Others, recruited to ease the nurse shortage, are forced to work as healthcare assistants on lower salaries while they wait for NMC to process their applications for registration, HSJ has learned.

NMC president Jonathan Asbridge, chief nurse at Barts and the London trust, apologised to nurses and trusts for the crisis in its registration service.He said the problem was affecting not just overseas registered nurses but newly qualified nurses and those whose registration needed renewing. Employers including trusts and nursing agencies have reported spending up to an hour on the telephone trying to contact NMC to confirm registration.

An NMC spokesperson said: 'The crisis was inherited from the UK Central Council and we are working hard to remedy the situation.

The new council has been shocked by the extent of the backlog and other longstanding problems.'

In one case reported to HSJ, two nurses who had come from Australia waited nine months for their UK registration. They gave up in disgust and went home.

Jan Baum, director of Nightingale Nursing Bureau in London, said: 'Quite apart from the nursing shortage, I wonder what message these nurses take home about the UK.' Some overseas nurses are working as healthcare assistants on B-grade salaries while they wait for the UK registration to be processed, added Ms Baum.

For the past two weeks, overseas nurses waiting for UK registration have queued outside NMC's London office in the hope of an answer. Between 60-80 people have queued daily, with the first arriving at 5am.

The British Nursing Association is facing similar problems. Those whose registration has expired and would expect renewal to be a routine matter are waiting weeks for a new PIN number. In the meantime, the BNA computer will not pay them. New nurses who qualified in February were still waiting for confirmation of their registration and were unable to work, a BNA spokesperson said.

The NMC spokesperson said there were multiple problems.

Introduction of a new computer system in April had created a backlog, while the telephone system was not able to handle the thousands of calls received every day.

NMC receives 27,000 renewals, 15,000 changes of address and 4,000 applications from overseas nurses each week. The number of overseas nurses requesting an information pack has soared to 100,000 a year.NMC plans to ease pressure on telephones by contracting a call centre and transferring many services to an online system. It promises the backlog will be eased by next week.