BASILDON Hospital has spent almost £700,000 this year paying nurses to work as healthcare assistants because of red tape.

Since the middle of last year, the hospital trust has been on a major recruitment drive looking to hire dozens of extra nurses to meet a serious shortage on the wards.

A lack of home-grown nurses forced managers to cast their nets as far as the Philippines. The trust even spent £6,500 sending four staff overseas in search of recruits.

But new rules on nurses’ registration meant 100 qualified overseas nurses brought to Basildon by the trust could only do the work of healthcare assistants while waiting for the Nursing and Midwifery Council to accept their credentials.

The trust says this has cost the cash-strapped hospital about £692,000.

Last month, the Echo revealed the trust had a £9million deficit at the end of March, with directors admitting the problem would run over into 2015 and possibly beyond.

After hiring 100 foreign nurses – 60 of them from the Philippines – the hospital still has a major shortage and is again looking overseas to fill the gap – time looking at Asia, Portugal and Spain.

Personnel director Nigel Taylor said the length of time taken getting visas and Nursing and MidwiferyCouncil approval had been “disappointingly long”.

He added: “The overall cost of a repeat recruitment exercise to recruit 60 nurses from the Philippines (including pay costs as healthcare assistants while awaiting registration) is in excess of £1,112,000.

“It should be noted these costs include pay costs as healthcare assistants in excess of £692,000.”

Mr Taylor pointed out by using the Filipino nurses as healthcare assistants, the hospital was avoiding the need to hire bank and agency staff in those roles. The hospital estimates nurses from the Philippines will have to spend between nine months and a year in Basildon before they will be allowed to do the jobs the were brought here to do.

Staff from the EU can usually start work as nurses after between one and two months.

Hospitals in crisis: Two page special in today's Echo