Restrictions on the NHS recruiting nurses from overseas have been temporarily lifted after warnings that a crisis in medical staffing is looming this winter. Nurses will be added to the Government’s shortage occupation list, which means nurses from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will have their work visa applications prioritised.
Senior NHS figures warned that “stringent” immigration were preventing them from recruiting enough nurses. Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, warned this month that “we need to better join up the dots on immigration policy and the NHS”. He said nurses should not be covered by rules under which workers from outside the EEA are deported if they are earning less than £35,000 after six years in the UK; among such workers set to be sent home by 2020 are 7,000 overseas nurses, the Royal College of Nursing says. “Most hospitals tell me that the idea that we would seriously consider deporting some of our most experienced and committed nurses solely because they’re not earning £35,000 clearly needs a rethink,” said Mr Stevens.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This reversal is a real victory for nurses, the health service and most of all for patients. Since the RCN first raised this issue and lobbied for a change to the immigration rules, a consensus has formed across the health service that cutting the supply of overseas nurses risked patient care.”
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said current staffing levels were too low in many areas. “At long last, the Government has realised just how much the NHS relies on its migrant nurses,” he said. “By cutting the number of student nurse places, ministers created a serious recruitment crisis in the health service. And that is why NHS trusts have been forced to recruit from outside the EU for the last two years.”