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The rhetoric of caring and the recruitment of overseas nurses: the social production of a care gap


  • Helen Allan RN, RNT, BSc, PGDE, PhD

    1. Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Research in Nursing & Midwifery Education, European Institute of Health & Medical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK
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Helen Allan
Centre for Research in Nursing & Midwifery Education European Institute of Health & Medical Sciences University of Surrey Guildford GU2 5TE, UK
Telephone: +44(0) 1483 689 745


Aims and objectives.  I will argue that overseas nurse recruitment is the consequence of a care gap, which arose from several policy shifts in the 1990s and in part from the rhetoric of a normative moral discourse in the UK which claims that caring is the moral essence of nursing. I will suggest that this discourse has masked the uncoupling of caring from nursing practice and that this uncoupling places the overseas nurses in a contradictory position.

Background.  In an increasingly competitive global labour market, the UK is faced with a nursing shortage and has been recruiting trained nurses from abroad (NMC 1993–2002).

Design and methods.  This paper is based on two related, qualitative studies using semi-structured focus groups and individual interviews. The first explored the experiences of overseas nurses in the UK and the second investigated the equal opportunities and career progression of overseas nurses in the UK.

Results.  The data from these studies challenge the normative UK value that caring is at the heart of nursing. These data are the lens through which we see this contradiction explicitly played out. Overseas nurses observe that caring (as undertaken by health care assistants in care homes) is not nursing yet caring is being passed down the line as a process that marginalizes the overseas nurses and at the same time devalues their skills. I do not argue that overseas nurses care at a higher standard (although this may be the case) just that they care differently, that they expected UK nurses to deliver basic care and, instead, experience UK nursing practice as less autonomous and of a lower standard than they expected.

Conclusions.  I argue that the overseas nurses’ views help us understand the processes by which the uncoupling of caring from nursing has come about.

Relevance to clinical practice.  This paper discusses a workforce issue which is directly relevant to clinical practice because it focuses on the meaning of care; what is caring, what are caring activities and how are these represented in the discourse on caring in the literature? This paper also reveals significant worries among nursing managers about how to staff the nursing workforce and what nurses should be doing in the clinical areas.