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Around 600 national third country nurses work in Malta, but around 150 have moved abroad or submitted their resignation since December, union sources said.

“It’s a crisis,” the MUMN union said in a statement.

Other southern European countries have complained about the shortage of nurses during the coronavirus pandemic, with wealthier northern nations being able to offer better packages.

Foreign employees, including include In the, Pakistani and Filipinosmake up around 15% of the total nursing staff in Malta and the fact that they speak English makes them particularly attractive to the UK and Ireland.

Recruitment agencies in the UK and India Have posted Facebook ads encouraging nurses in Malta to apply for jobs in the UK.

Nursing sources say nurses are offered a base salary of £ 32,000, or € 36,000, compared to the current salary in Malta of € 18,722 for aspiring nurses and € 21,000 for qualified nurses.

However, the Nursing Union said that better conditions than higher wages were particularly attractive – especially offering them and their families quicker routes to citizenship.

In addition, the UK offers foreign nurses free housing for the first 12 months, MUMN said.

“The current nursing workforce is already under heavy workload as none of the wards … have the agreed nursing supplement,” said the nurses union leader Paul Pace said in a statement. “Losing 15% of caregivers will literally bring the health service to a standstill.”

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Robert Dunfee