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Immigration rules to be relaxed for doctors and nurses

Health leaders welcome policy change, due today

Jo Carlowe

Friday, 15 June 2018

Health leaders have responded positively to reports that the home secretary plans to relax immigration rules for doctors and nurses.

The new immigration rules are due to be laid before parliament today (Friday).

Home secretary Sajid Javid said: “I recognise the pressures faced by the NHS and other sectors in recent months. Doctors and nurses play a vital role in society and at this time we need more in the UK. That is why I have reviewed our skilled worker visa route. This is about finding a solution to increased demand and to support our essential national services.”

It is expected Mr Javid will today announce that foreign medics will be excluded from the government’s cap on skilled migration.

The cap, introduced when Theresa May was home secretary, currently sets the limit for all non-EU skilled workers at 20,700 a year. GPs, psychiatrists and cancer specialists have been amongst those refused Tier-2 visas in recent months.

The change will likely mean there will be no restriction on the numbers who can be employed through the Tier-2 visa route.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association council chair, said, “common sense had finally prevailed”.

He added: “This represents a victory for the BMA, medical bodies and patients who have argued that this obstructive cap was doing real damage to patient services across the country. Together with NHS Employers and the Medical Royal Colleges, we wrote to the new home secretary during his first week in post to ask that he make it one of his first priorities to address this issue, and he has finally heeded our calls.

“These regulations have prevented thousands of non-EU doctors being allowed to work in the UK to fill empty posts that the health service is unable to fill. The NHS has always relied on these highly-skilled, experienced overseas doctors to provide frontline care to patients, and they are needed more than ever at a time when the NHS is under mounting pressure from rising demand, stagnating funding and staff shortages.”

Reacting to the news, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "While we await the details of the home secretary's expected announcement, lifting the cap of Tier-2 visas for doctors and nurses wanting to work in the NHS would be a fantastic and a much-needed victory for common sense and patient care, and something that the College, along with organisations across medicine, has been pushing hard for.

"We are currently desperately short of GPs in the UK. Our workload is escalating both in terms of volume and complexity, yet despite the government's pledge for 5,000 more family doctors by 2020, the number of GPs working in the NHS in England is actually falling.

"The NHS, general practice included, has long been supported by the skills and hard work of doctors and other healthcare professionals from overseas. Mindful of similar pressures in other countries, we would welcome any appropriately-trained doctor who wants to work in UK general practice to help us deliver care to over one million patients a day.”

However, she warned that “significant barriers” still remained.

"Regardless of the cap on Tier-2 visas, there remain significant barriers for GPs to employ doctors from overseas. We urge the home secretary to address these in his announcement… to cut the arduous red tape and significant costs standing in the way of GP practices obtaining the necessary licence to do this; and to use his powers to add GPs to the Migration Advisory Committee's shortage occupation list.

"Recruiting GPs from overseas will not solve the workforce crisis and we are committed to training more GPs in the UK - but it takes at least 10 years to train a GP, and lifting the cap on Tier-2 visas is a very positive step in addressing the workforce pressures facing general practice in the shorter term.”

Stephanie Aiken, deputy director of Nursing at the Royal College of Nursing, responding to reports of the expected government announcement on the relaxing of immigration rules for non-EU nurses, said: “Today the government has woken up to the vital contribution international nurses make to our health and social care sector.

“The UK has long depended on professionals from around the world to plug staff shortages at home. Patient demand is rising and we will continue to rely on this important source of expertise.

“This is only one piece of the puzzle, staffing shortages are leaving patient care increasingly unsafe. The government must develop a comprehensive and costed workforce plan which grows the workforce in line with population health and care needs, including incentivising more UK nationals into the profession.”

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