VALLETTA (Reuters) - Malta's nurses union has warned that its hospitals, hard-pressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, face a staffing crisis as Britain has enticed away a growing number of the island nation's foreign nurses with offers of better pay and conditions.
Some 600 third-country national nurses work in Malta, but roughly 150 have moved abroad or else handed in their resignation since December, union sources said.
"It is a crisis," the MUMN union said in a statement.
Other southern European countries have complained about nurse shortages during the coronavirus pandemic with wealthier northern nations able to offer better packages.
Foreign staffers, including include Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos, make up around 15% of the total nursing staff in Malta, and the fact they speak English makes them especially attractive to Britain and Ireland.
Recruitment agencies in Britain and India have run Facebook adverts urging nurses in Malta to apply for jobs in Britain.
Sources in the nursing sector said nurses are being offered a basic starting salary of 32,000 pounds or 36,000 euros($44,500) compared to the current Malta salary of 18,722 euros for trainee nurses and 21,000 euros for qualified nurses.
But the nursing union said that better conditions rather than higher pay was proving especially attractive - particularly the offer of quicker routes to citizenship for them and their families.
Moreover, Britain is offering foreign nurses free accommodation for the first 12 months, MUMN said.
"The present nursing workforce is already working under a heavy workload with none of the wards...having the agreed nursing complement," nurses union leader Paul Pace said in a statement. "Losing 15% of the nursing workforce will literally bring the health service to a standstill."
The union said it would meet the government and the state agency responsible for handing out residence permits with a view to trying to keep foreign nurses in Malta.
($1 = 0.7193 pounds)
(Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer/Mark Heinrich)