Block on Indian doctor visas leads to NHS protest

Fears over staff shortages in the NHS continue to grow as the number of doctors prevented from entering the UK under the Tier 2 visa system rises to 400 since December.

NHS staff with stethoscope
The UK government’s visa system for skilled migrants from outside the European Union has come under renewed attack after it emerged that hundreds of much-needed doctors had been refused entry in recent months.

Tier 2 visa system and skilled labour in the UK

Health service chiefs have written to Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to protest the latest block on 100 junior doctors from India because a cap on arrivals under the Tier 2 visa system for skilled migrants had been imposed in March for the fourth month in row.The system, which has long been opposed by business leaders, particularly in the IT and financial sectors, limits the number of arrivals from outside the European Economic Area to 20,700 a year. Some professions on the Shortage Occupation List are exempt from the cap, which is applied on a month-by-month basis. Nurses are on the shortage list but doctors, except in some specialisations, are not.NHS managers told the BBC on Friday that, since December, 400 Tier 2 visas for doctors across the UK had been refused visas, despite a staffing shortage in many hospitals. 
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Now 35 NHS trusts have written to ministers saying 100 Indian doctors involved in a postgraduate scheme aimed at attracting doctors from around the world to work in the NHS, had been denied entry because of the imposition of the visa cap.“There will be no option but to fill the rotas with locums at significant expense and there will be an impact on British trainees because they will have to work additional hours and therefore lose quality training time,” the letter said. “As we reach the end of a winter where the NHS has been stretched to its very limits, partly as a result of a lack of medical workforce, we find it almost impossible to understand how this decision can have been reached.”

Insufficient numbers of NHS doctors

Dr Sanjay Arya, medical director of the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS trust, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “It will have a very huge impact on patient care and patient safety. I see it every day that there are gaps on the rota.“We haven’t got enough doctors to look after the sick, frail, elderly patients in our NHS and many a time the existing doctors are working long hours, which is very tiring. It makes them an unsafe doctor. So if we had this pool of highly qualified doctors coming from overseas it is only going to help our patients, our NHS.”Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, told the BBC he had heard of 400 cases of blocked visas since December. “We have examples of clinics being cancelled and delays in terms of patients receiving care. It exacerbates pressures in what are relatively small medical teams,” he said.A Home Office spokesman insisted the Tier 2 system was in the national interest. “When demand exceeds the monthly allocation of visas, priority is given to applicants filling a shortage of PhD-level occupations. Around a third of the available visas already go to NHS workers and in some roles such as emergency medicine, applications are never refused,” she said.The government’s Migration Advisory Committee is currently reviewing the Tier 2 system as part of its remit to come up with proposals for a post-Brexit immigration system. It is expected to report in September but the government is not now due to act on a new system until early in 2019.
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