Thousands of international nurses will be prevented from getting jobs in the UK to give "homegrown" students better employment opportunities, the Government announced today.
Under the plans, overseas nurses will be barred from applying for junior posts unless a UK nurse or a nurse from the EEA (European Economic Area) cannot fill the job.
The move applies to nurses in bands 5 and 6 - those with between a few months experience and around one a half years.
The bands are being taken off the Home Office shortage occupation list and it means employers will have to advertise vacancies to "homegrown" students before looking abroad.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the move "beggars belief" with overseas nurses being made a scapegoat for the financial crisis in the NHS.
But Health Minister Lord Warner insisted that large-scale recruitment of international nurses was only ever intended "to be a short-term measure".
Extra investment in training meant there was no longer a need to hire junior nurses from abroad, he said.
The change does not affect nurses already working in the UK and there would still be specialist nursing vacancies, he added.
"The aim of the NHS has always been to look towards home-grown staff in the first instance and have a diverse workforce that reflects local communities.
"The NHS has seen historical levels of investment and a period of expansions in the nursing workforce since 1997 in order to help reduce waiting times, improve access to services and ensure high quality treatment and care.
"On top of this we have made a huge investment in education and training and in the development of robust recruitment and retention policies.
"This is now bearing fruit."
Steve Barnett, director of NHS Employers, also said today that the organisation was trying to get a clearer picture of how UK graduating nurses will fare in getting jobs this year.
In London, Manchester, Leeds and Essex, employers expect to be able to hire all their newly qualified staff but there were "real issues" in the East and West Midlands, he said.
Mr Barnett said it was not yet clear how many nurses in the East and West Midlands were experiencing difficulty in getting jobs.
RCN General Secretary Dr Beverly Malone said of today's announcement: "International nurses have always been there for the UK in times of need and it beggars belief that they are now being made scapegoats for the current deficits crisis.
"Removing nursing from the list of recognised shortage professions is short-termism in the worst possible sense.
"We know that the vast majority of international nurses are employed in bands 5 and 6, the very bands which are going to be affected.
"If this proposal goes ahead I guarantee that the effects will be far-reaching and immediate.
"Over 150,000 nurses are due to retire in the next five to 10 years and we will not replace them all with home-grown nurses alone.
"We also have to remember that this blanket ban on international nurses will also apply to the independent sector who are heavily reliant on international nurses to carry on providing care and are not in the position of financial crisis the NHS finds itself in.
"If there is solid evidence to show that we no longer need international nurses in the UK's healthcare system both now and in the future, then we urge the Government to provide it - something they have yet to do.
"Until that time, the RCN will remain convinced that this is a bad decision for patients, for nurses and for the UK healthcare system as a whole."Reuse content