NHS trusts urge Government to recognise how much NHS relies on immigration

85% of trusts say overseas recruitment will be key to keep services running over the next three years

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 07 November 2017 01:32 GMT

NHS leaders are calling on the Government to reform immigration policy to make it easier to recruit doctors and nurses from overseas and fill significant gaps left by UK workforce shortages.

Staff shortages are the top concern for two thirds of chief executives and chairs of NHS trusts and foundation trusts, according to a survey by membership body, NHS Providers.

And 85 per cent expect overseas recruitment to be very or fairly important to keeping services running over the next three years.

To address this NHS Providers, which represents 98 per cent of NHS trusts, says the Government must “urgently confirm the right to remain” of 60,000 EU staff in the NHS and set out how it will fund pay rises for staff now it has scrapped its public sector pay cap.

The “There for us: a better future for the NHS workforce” report adds the Government should: “Commit to a future immigration policy supporting trusts to recruit and retain staff from around the world to fill posts that cannot be filled by the domestic workforce in the short to medium term.”

This should be backed by a Department of Health led “international recruitment programme” which trusts could pay to opt into rather than running individual recruitment schemes.

NHS England announced this year that it was massively expanding its international GP recruitment programme, from 500 GPs, to 2,000 to 3,000 by 2020, at a cost of £100m.

But this short-term intervention should be followed by transparent, long-term workforce planning goals to expand the domestic supply of doctors.

The Government has made several commitments in this area in the past two years. At the Conservative Party Conference 2017 Jeremy Hunt pledged the NHS will train 5,000 more nurses a year, and has already committed to training 1,500 more medical students in a bid to be “self-sufficient” in doctors by 2025.

NHS Providers told The Independent that it welcomed these pledges, but in the meantime UK immigration policy must not make it harder to recruit, particularly as trusts report workforce is the biggest single issue they face.

One hundred and forty nine trust bosses, representing 51 per cent of NHS's hospital, ambulance, mental health and community health trusts respondend to an NHS Providers survey, it shows:

  • Staff supply shortages (93 per cent), workload pressures (60 per cent), and pay and remuneration (38 per cent) were the top three challenges to recruitment and retention mentioned by trusts. 
  • 90 per cent of respondents worried that the Department of Health’s approach to workforce planning would not support them to recruit and retain sufficient staff. Forty-two per cent were very worried, but just two per cent were confident.
  • Brexit was seen as the main barrier to recruitment outside the UK over the next three years. More than one in three (38 per cent) mentioned this issue.

One respondent to the survey, the chief executive of an NHS acute trust, said: “Sustainable staffing is the greatest challenge facing my organisation. I have no real sense that the scale of the challenge is truly understood nationally”.

NHS Providers chief executive, Chris Hopson, said: “The staff and skills shortages we now see reflect a fundamental failure at national level on workforce strategy.

“We don’t have enough staff with the right skills and we’re asking far too much of our existing staff. NHS trust leaders are telling us there are no quick fixes to improve the supply of UK-trained staff, and the outlook for international recruitment is uncertain.”

"The government must deliver certainty for EU staff. It should reassure them that their commitment to the NHS is greatly valued and will continue to be welcome. It should also provide assurance on immigration policy so trusts can continue to recruit overseas while we strengthen our workforce here."

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said there needed to be new laws to make ministers accountable for workforce planning, adding: “For as long as we fail to train enough British nurses, we must be able to recruit the best from around Europe. If there is a ‘cliff edge’ in 2019, it will be the NHS going over it.”

Chair of the British Medical Association, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: “The NHS has always depended on overseas doctors to deliver much needed care to patients and our health service could not operate without them.

He said the measures in the pipeline could alleviate some workforce pressures, but added: “These recruitment drives must be accompanied by a renewed effort to ensure that we correct the chaos in workforce planning and have a plan to train and retain adequate numbers of home grown doctors in the UK to meet the needs of our population.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The NHS has over 12,700 more doctors and 10,600 more nurses on wards since May 2010 — but we know that we need more staff.

"That's why we recently announced the biggest ever expansion of training places for doctors and nurses, as well as being clear that the future of EU nationals is a top priority in the Brexit negotiations and we want their valued contribution to the NHS to continue — to ensure the NHS has the staff it needs both now and in the future.”

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