• NMC expands covid register to overseas-trained nurses
  • Comes after former nurses were asked to join last March
  • Employers told to take “full responsibility” for protecting BAME staff from additional covid risks

Overseas-trained nurses have been told they can join the temporary coronavirus register without undertaking a formal ‘clinical assessment’ in an attempt to bolster the NHS workforce as the third covid wave surges.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council confirmed on Tuesday that it has invited the additional nurses in a bid to “strengthen workforce capacity in the immediate period and coming weeks”.

It comes as the number of covid inpatient admissions rises sharply across the country, with London and the South East of England badly hit. At the start of the pandemic last year, the NMC asked former nurses who had left within the last three years to join the emergency covid register as cases grew.

The register is being opened to two additional cohorts of overseas-trained nurses. Those who have been issued with their objective structured clinical examination decision letters, of which the regulator says there are approximately 2,000 people, and others from whom the NMC has received a registration application from alongside the necessary supporting documentation.

Neither group has yet taken, nor yet passed, the OSCE but both are in the process of applying to join the permanent register.

The regulator said OSCE centres will remain open to those continuing their journey to joining the permanent register. However, the temporary version will be run in “parallel” so eligible candidates can choose to work as temporarily registered nurses with conditions on their practice. It added overseas-trained midwives will not be invited to join the temporary register at this time.

A joint statement, signed by the UK’s four chief nursing officers, and NMC chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe, said: “A significant proportion of those overseas-trained nurses who are eligible to join the temporary register will be from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

“Given what is known about the impact of covid on people from black and ethnic minority groups, it is crucial that partners across the health and care system take full responsibility for protecting these professionals from additional risks. 

“Workforce risks assessments should be used where these exist.”

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the measures are “vital” to help temporarily expand the nursing workforce. She urged ministers and scientists to recommend a “higher level” of personal protective equipment, “as a precaution immediately”, until more is known about the new covid variant.

She added: “The government and regulator must work closely with employers to ensure that new recruits are appropriately assessed, trained and vaccinated like other staff -  despite the urgent need to get them in front of patients.

“In the longer-term, the UK must end its over-reliance on overseas nursing staff by investing in domestic education programmes and the real support nursing students require.”

Unison union’s national nursing officer Stuart Tuckwood believed the move will help deal with “severe” staffing shortages, but warned they must be “supported and supervised” by fully registered nurses to ensure patient safety.

He said: “Covid-19 has disproportionately affected black staff. It’s vital overseas nurses are given risk assessments, suitable safety kit and appropriate training to ensure their health is protected.”