'We need to tackle bullying and harassment of NHS international recruits’ say RCM and other Unions

on 26 April 2024

International recruits to the NHS are being bullied, harassed and discriminated against, say the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), as they publish new guidance for recruiting midwives and health professionals to the UK.

The RCM alongside, the Society of Radiographers (SOR), and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) have drawn on the poor experiences of their own overseas-recruited members, as well as experiences of good practice. They have jointly compiled these into a standards and principles document, following consultation with their members and equality networks.

With the NHS increasingly reliant on overseas recruits to fill vacant roles, many international workers are left vulnerable to unscrupulous recruiters and private providers. The Royal College of Midwives and Chartered Society of Physiotherapy have also witnessed international recruits who have been left vulnerable and isolated – and on occasion at real risk. 

Alice Sorby, Director of Employment Relations at the RCM, says: "Internationally educated midwives make an invaluable contribution to the NHS. They are a vital cog in our heath service, and yet all too often they are not treated with the respect they deserve. 

"Sadly, they face bullying and harassment in the workplace as well as employment issues, and recently we have seen denial of family visas despite reassurance from employers they would be able to bring them along with them.

"Access to basic employment rights and equal treatment with other NHS staff should be the bare minimum, but unfortunately these principles and standards are instead required to hold poor practice to account. The NHS was built by migrant labour and would be nowhere without its internationally recruited staff.”

Dean Rogers, Executive Director at SOR, said: "There are acute shortages in radiography departments across the country: the average vacancy rate for radiography has risen to 13.4 per cent. 

"As a result, 15 per cent of all registered radiographers are currently recruited overseas – and internationally trained radiographers are likely to play a critical role in recruitment and retention for the foreseeable future. 

"We have seen far too many examples of horrifying treatment of overseas professionals. We recently represented a member whose case against an independent provider featured elements of modern slavery. The judge in the resulting employment tribunal commented on the shocking levels of racism involved."

The NHS has also been implicated in recruiting radiographers from countries on the World Health Organisation’s red list, meaning that health professionals who work there should not be targeted for overseas recruitment.

Mr Rogers said: “In one instance, the NHS used an outsourced agency to recruit a radiographer from a red-list country. The agency then forced the radiographer to take a pregnancy test and sacked her when it found out she was pregnant – leaving her family homeless just before Christmas.

The standards and principles produced by the three unions covers recruitment into the NHS and the independent sector. The unions now plan to produce advice guides, providing international recruits with essential information about their rights at every stage of the recruitment process. 

Jim Fahie, Assistant Director at the CSP, said: "Our members face similar issues when they have been recruited from abroad. By pooling our thoughts and sharing resources, we can empower members through examples of best practice and guidance documents, which we will develop and build on through the year."

The hope that other unions and professional organisations working in health and social care will sign up to their standards and principles document.

The full standards and principles can be found here.