Strict immigration rules are harming patient safety, NHS staff warn

The heads of 10 NHS hospital trusts have written to the Home Secretary

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The Independent Online

Patient safety is being put at risk by stringent immigration rules which are denying nurses entry into the UK, leading NHS professionals have warned. 

Representative body NHS Employers has said hospitals will not have enough nurses to cope with increased demand as winter approaches, meaning lengthy delays and cancelled operations.

Together with chief executives of 10 NHS Trusts, the organisation has written to Home Secretary Theresa May asking for foreign nurses from outside of the EU to be given greater priority by the Government when considering applications for those wishing to work in the UK.

It has said nursing should be included on the Home Office’s “Tier 2 shortage occupation list”, and the way in which NHS applications are assessed should be examined.

Classical ballet dancers, chefs, computer games animators and actuaries are all on the shortage occupation list, but nurses are not – unless they have specific expertise in neonatal intensive care.

In the letter to Mrs May, the NHS figures warned that even with significant recruitment of nurses from within the EU, there is still a shortfall.

Government plans to train more nurses in the UK will not help plug the immediate shortfall, it said, because it takes four years to commission and deliver the training they require.

NHS Employers argues that although trusts are having success recruiting from abroad, the immigration rules mean these individuals are not ending up employed in the UK’s hospitals.

It said eight out of 10 applications from nurses living outside of the EU had been rejected to date by the Home Office.

In a statement, Daniel Mortimer, NHS Employers chief executive, said: “Due to the high demand for immigration certificates in June and July, for example, all of the applications for nurses were rejected.

“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. 

“Non-EU nurses are invaluable to the NHS… We are asking that this is recognised and that nursing be placed on the shortage occupation list for the next two years.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “NHS trusts have been given more than 1,400 Tier 2 certificates of sponsorship for nurses since April this year but over 600 of the places allocated to them in April and May this year have been returned unused.

“The independent Migration Advisory Committee, which took evidence from a number of NHS trusts and representative bodies from across the UK, recommended against adding nurses to the shortage occupation list earlier this year.

“We will continue to monitor Tier 2 take-up, but have no plans to change the level of the annual limit of 20,700 places.”

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