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Staffing crisis likely this winter due to Home Office immigration rules

NHS Employers says rejection of staff from outside EU is putting patient safety at risk

Ingrid Torjesen

Thursday, 10 September 2015

NHS Employers has written to the Home Secretary Theresa May warning that NHS services are likely to be compromised this winter because trusts cannot recruit the staff that they need due to Home Office immigration rules.

The letter is signed and supported by many trust chief executives across England, including Sir Robert Naylor (UCLH), Sir Len Fenwick (Newcastle) and Sir Andrew Cash (Sheffield).

Around 1,000 nurses from outside the European Union have been rejected to date by the Home Office due to immigration rules, and a further 1,000 nurses are expected to apply to work in the UK in the next 6 months. The Tier 2 system under which these nurses must apply is weighted towards points for the guaranteed salary they will earn. There is a shortage occupation list which bypasses the Tier 2 system, but nursing is not included on this list.

NHS Employers says that the rules are compromising patient safety and cost controls and risk leaving a shortage of nurses and doctors this winter. It anticipates that clinical services will be compromised, especially in the coming winter months when demand for care is highest. This could lead to delays for patients, their families and risks operations being cancelled and treatments being delayed.

Figures from NHS England show there is increasing demand on the NHS to meet patient need at a time when there is a nursing shortage in the UK, as a result trusts need to recruit large numbers of nurses from outside of the EU to provide a sustainable workforce.

While plans are in place to train more nurses in the UK, it takes four years to commission and deliver the training so an expanded UK trained workforce will not be available until 2017 at the earliest.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “Hospitals strive constantly to deliver the same high standard of care to patients amid rising demands. Even with Government commitment to additional training places for nurses and a focus on retention, we need to employ staff from outside the EU to meet current demand for staff.”

Due to the high demand for immigration certificates in June and July, all of the applications for nurses were rejected, he said. “Whilst there was some improvement in August, with 200 certificates being issued there remains significant numbers of outstanding applications for entry to the UK to take up nursing posts in our hospitals. If Trusts are unable to employ these nurses it will impact on their ability to meet safe staffing levels and support the effective provision of services particularly in the winter months.

“Non-EU nurses are invaluable to the NHS. Whilst we are experiencing a mismatch between supply and demand we are asking that this is recognised and that nursing be placed on the shortage occupation list for the next two years.”

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