No training. No English … Now you are a nurse

An NSWNA member went to China on an assignment to train nurses about aged care for Australian nursing homes. She came back deeply concerned about the integrity of the project.

Earlier this year the Age newspaper exposed a Melbourne-based agency, NurseBank, that was sending Chinese nurses to work in Victorian nursing homes and hospitals for up to 50 hours a week, including Christmas day, for a flat $300 a week.

The Howard government had approved s.442 trainee visas for the nurses. These visas allow work if it is part of an approved training program.

Now, a NSW nurse has spoken out about the type of candidates recruited by Nurse Bank in China and the quality of their training.

Lara* was hired by Nurse Bank to train Chinese nurses in aged care to a level suitable for employment in Australian nursing homes.

Immediately on arrival at Nantong, a day’s drive north-west of Shanghai, she realised all was not as it was supposed to be.

‘I thought I’d be training to levels Cert III or Cert IV in nursing. I thought I’d be teaching them systems, about caring, about an understanding of aged care.

‘I found it a bit strange. There were about 50 girls. They weren’t RNs. Only one of them was a nurse,’ she said.

Lara says the teaching facilities were extremely basic and the resources scant.

‘I was given some books by Nurse Bank. The students were given answer books. I was to write the answers on the board and they copied them.

‘The only other resources I had were some DVDs from Nurse Bank that I brought with me.’

But even these meagre resources proved to be useless with the students’ almost non-existent levels of English.

‘Basically I had to teach them English. I had to draw a body on the board and teach them the names of the parts of the body.

‘These students were paying thousands of dollars for the tuition. Many had borrowed money to do the course. Many had travelled to Nantong from the countryside. They were promised they would get a certificate. They were promised they could then go to Australia to work,’ she said.

The course was meant to last for eight weeks but after five weeks Lara confronted one of the owners of Nurse Bank, Alan Hickling, about the problems and the inadequacy of the course.

‘I was pressured to sign the certificates. I couldn’t do it. It was a threat to my registration. They flew me out straight away after I refused,’ she said.

Lara said she was quite shocked by the experience and feels for both the Chinese women she met in Nantong and the Australian patients they would eventually care for.

It was an eye-opener and it’s sad for Australia to let it happen. It’s about standards and we don’t want to bring them down. Patients deserve holistic care. It frightened me that they wouldn’t be getting that care.

‘It’s also about exploitation. The women I taught in China would also be badly affected.’

*Not her real name. Lara is too afraid to reveal her identity in The Lamp.

s.442 visa: A licence to exploit?

  • Trainee, or s.442, visas, allow work if it is part of an approved training program.
  • Companies that sponsor the s.442 visa holders must deliver a 12-month, government-approved occupational training program with award wages.
  • The Age says Chinese nurses paid $12,000 for the s.442 visa training program in China. The same course costs Australians $4,000.
  • Nurse Bank paid the Chinese nur-ses $300 a week. Nurse Bank then charged them an administration fee, a performance retention fee and nursing home wage fee.