ITALIAN nurses who moved to England to work in Colchester have been staying at a four-star hotel and spa – at taxpayers’ expense.

Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust has paid for about 40 nurses to stay at the Crowne Plaza Five Lakes Hotel, in Tolleshunt Knights, to help them settle in.

Some stayed there for up to six weeks.

A spokesman for the trust said it contacted all local hotels and asked for their most competitive rate, with Five Lakes coming in the cheapest.

But the trust would not reveal howmuch it cost.

The trust pays for nurses’ accommodation for three months, which is common procedure with other hospitals.

A spokesman said: “While there is a big focus on recruitment, the retention of staff is also extremely important. If staff leave, we have to pay to recruit replacements.

“The trust is determined to give nurses from overseas a warm and friendly welcome, and to help them settle into working life in the UK to maximise the likelihood of them spending a significant amount of time with us.

“In the past we recruited qualified nurses from Spain but a significant number of them left, some to return home and others to work in London.

We have learnt from that and are applying the lessons.”

As part of its ongoing recruitment drive the trust has taken on 90 nurses from Italy since January.

Those who were not in the hotel stayed in staff accommodation or private rented places.

According to the hotel’s website, the price of a standard twin room tonight is £119. However, the hospital is understood to have got a reduced rate, although it would not say how much it paid.

Karen Webb, Royal College of Nursing’s regional director, said: “It is standard practice for hospitals recruiting overseas nurses to offer accommodation to new recruits for a period as they settle into their new roles.

“As we continue to rely on overseas nurses to keep our NHS running, it is important they are given assistance as they start in their jobs and this should include appropriate accommodation.”

Tim Roberts, Unison lead officer for health in Essex, said: “We can see the trust has no choice. There is a shortage of nurses in this country.

“Every trust in the country is going overseas trying to recruit nurses. They have to make the offer attractive. However, the trust also needs to do more to keep their existing nurses.”