EAST Lancashire’s hospitals have offered 38 jobs to nurses from Portugal and Italy, in a bid to plug the remaining gaps in their work-force.

A national shortage of nurses has prompted boss-es at the Royal Blackburn and Burnley General Hospitals to look to Europe for new staff, having already recruited heavily in the UK.

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust has brought in 120 nurses and 140 healthcare assistants since April last year, when the trust was subjected to major inspections that revealed worrying staff shortages in many areas.

Dozens of posts still remain unfilled but, with a total of 82 qualified nurses ‘in the recruitment pipeline’, bosses think they can reach the expected staffing levels by May.

Many of these new recruits have filled positions that had been vacant, so extra funding was not needed in these cases.

In March last year, four months before the hospitals were placed in special measures, the Lancashire Telegraph revealed they were planning to slash the total number of employees by 500 by 2017/18, which prompted outrage from cam- paigners.

However, hospital chiefs yesterday conceded that these plans will have to be reassessed, following the criticisms around staff shortages that were made by NHS chief Sir Bruce Keogh.

The trust will still have to find ways to save about £85million, but said changes to the workforce will need to be ‘carefully planned’.

David Smithson, head of human resources, said: “Since July 2013 we have been recruiting to ensure that the safest staffing levels are attained in line with the recommendations of the Keogh Review, and the trust continues to recruit nursing staff through the ‘Care to Make a Difference’ campaign.

“The financial years ahead will be extremely challenging for all NHS org- anisations, and any subsequent workforce reduct-ons will be carefully planned and implemented to ensure that we continue to provide high-quality, safe and sustainable services to the people of East Lancashire.”

Mr Smithson said the foreign nurses will be assessed for ‘language prof-iciency’.