The NHS is gaining new freedoms to recruit from non-EU countries through the removal of a limit on numbers of medical specialists.
The NHS is to be able to recruit thousands more medical staff from abroad, after the Government announced a relaxation on visas.
Doctors and nurses are to be excluded from the cap on so-called “Tier 2” visas / COS (Certificate of Sponsorhip) for skilled workers from non-EU countries.
The visa limit has been set at 20,700 a year since 2011, with around 40% of places accounted for by the NHS. But recent months have regularly seen demand outstrip supply, driven in large part by the under-pressure health service.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “I recognise the pressures faced by the NHS and other sectors in recent months of 2018. 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.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the move would “send a clear message to nurses and doctors from around the world that the NHS welcomes and values their skills and dedication”, adding: “It’s fantastic that patients will now benefit from the care of thousands more talented staff.”
But how many NHS workers come from abroad, and how big a difference would raising the cap make?
1,518 applications for visas by foreign doctors were turned down in the four months to March 2018. This suggests that, if the cap were raised, around 4,500 more doctors could come to the UK each year.
The NHS – national health service is heavily reliant on staff from overseas.
In total, around 139,000 of the 1.2 million NHS employees are foreign nationals – equating to one in eight (12.5 per cent).
Of these, around 62,000 – or 5.6 per cent of all employees – come from EU countries. 45,000 come from Asia, and 21,000 are from African countries.
The most common nationalities are Indian (18,300), Filipino (15,400), Irish (13,000) and Polish (8,500).
Future numbers of visas for non-EU medics would be dictated by “the requirements of the NHS”, and it will be for health managers to determine how many are needed.
The Government was moving away from its target to get annual net migration below 100,000, stressing that the Prime Minister remains committed to reducing the number to “sustainable” levels.
“We remain absolutely committed to bringing it down to sustainable levels.
“There has been a particular demand in this area and we are responding to this demand as part of our long-term plan for the NHS.”
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said the announcement would be a “much-needed victory for common sense and patient care”.
Earlier this month, chairwoman Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard urged Mr Javid to relax immigration rules, warning there were concerning cases where foreign GPs had been affected by the “hostile environment” policies first brought in by Mrs May.
The British Medical Journal has said that between December 2017 and March 2018 more than 1,500 visa applications from doctors with job offers in the UK were refused as a result of the cap on workers from outside the European Economic Area.
Prof Stokes-Lampard said: “While we await the details of the Home Secretary’s expected announcement, lifting the cap of tier two visas for doctors and nurses wanting to work in the NHS would be a fantastic and much-needed victory for common sense and patient care, and something that the college, along with organisations across medicine, has been pushing hard for.”
She added: “The NHS, general practice included, has long been supported by the skills and hard work of doctors and other healthcare professionals from overseas.
“Overseas doctors make an invaluable contribution to our health service and, at a time when there are thousands of unfilled vacancies within the NHS, it is absurd that the Government should stop experienced and talented healthcare professionals coming to work here and provide much-needed care for patients”
“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.”
The BMA said a change in the rules would “be welcome relief to doctors and patients, who have witnessed first hand the damage that this policy has caused”.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chairman, said: “Overseas doctors make an invaluable contribution to our health service and, at a time when there are thousands of unfilled vacancies within the NHS, it is absurd that the Government should stop experienced and talented healthcare professionals coming to work here and provide much-needed care for patients.”
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