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Baroness Dido Harding, former head of the UK’s Test and Trace operations and candidate to be the new chief of the NHS, has pledged to make the health service less reliant on foreign workers.
Her comments in an interview with The Times at the weekend have sparked a backlash from unions and campaign groups, including the All Pakistan Nurses Association, whose president Zeba Arif said: “On behalf of overseas nurses who have contributed selflessly to the NHS, especially throughout the pandemic, I believe Baroness Harding’s statements of intent not only crass but downright disgraceful and deeply disrespectful.
“She appears to be inhabiting a parallel universe and seems sublimely unaware of the sacrifices ‘foreign’ healthcare professionals have made just to be employed.”
Baroness Harding officially applied to take over from current chief executive Sir Simon Stevens last week.
She said she would challenge the “prevailing orthodoxy” that it is better to import medical professionals from overseas so the UK can benefit from the investment of other countries than bear the cost of training domestically.
The Conservative peer will also resign from the party if she is successful in gaining the role, taking an indefinite leave of absence from the House of Lords.
Official figures show that 14% of NHS staff have a nationality that is not British. Vacancies for nursing roles currently stand at around 40,000.
Nurses United UK, a campaign group, said that the service would need to make greater investment in a recruitment pipeline before it could develop a reliable home-grown workforce.
Its lead organiser Anthony Jonson said: “The UK has always benefited from international staff. Whether it was Indian, Pakistani or Caribb