Objective: This paper examines how the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK achieved significant nursing workforce growth during the period between 2000 and 2006 and discusses the policy implications of the methods used to achieve this staffing growth. Methodology: Data analysis, literature review and policy analysis. Results: NHS nurse staffing growth was approximately 25% over the period 1997-2007, with most growth occurring in the years between 1999 and 2005. Whilst increases in intakes to home-based pre-registration education was a factor in achieving growth, the pace and level of growth which occurred was only possible by using active international recruitment, which was adopted as a deliberate national policy. The numbers of nurses and midwives entering the UK from other countries increased rapidly from 1999 onwards, to a peak in 2002, and then reduced markedly in the period from 2005 onwards. The policy of supporting international recruitment shifted rapidly in late 2005/2006 when financial difficulties hit the NHS and staffing growth was curtailed. Discussion: Active international recruitment can contribute to health sector staffing growth, assuming the recruiting country has the resources to recruit and can tap into international markets, but it may not be effective in addressing all types of skills shortages. If it is not well linked to other components of workforce planning it may cause difficulties of over expansion, as well as raising broader issues of the ethics and impact. © 2009 Royal College of Nursing, Australia
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