Visa limit stopping non-EU joining NHS despite shortages

NHS organisations are becoming ‘increasingly concerned’ by the restraints of the UK’s visa system on potential non-EU staff moving to the UK, amid an increasing shortage of doctors.

NHS staff walking along corridor
Despite 100,000 vacancies in Britain’s National Health Service – including a shortage of 9,500 doctors – medical staff from outside the European Economic Area are being refused visas despite having job offers.

UK visa system turning away potential NHS staff

Figures from NHS Digital this week showed that the number of EU nationals leaving the NHS in England last year increased by 14 per cent to 10,348, 1,305 more than in 2016. The number joining in 2017 – 12,117 – more than offset those departing, but was still more than 2,000 down on the previous year.The Brexit-inspired departures and the drop-off in new EU recruits is forcing NHS Trusts to look further afield but an investigation by Business Insider has found that hundreds of doctors from outside Europe are being turned away because of the Tier 2 visa system.Under that system, the Home Office imposes an annual limit of 20,700 Tier 2 visas available to skilled migrants from outside the EEA. About a third of those visas traditionally go to NHS recuits but, in December, January and February, visas stopped being issued when the monthly cap on numbers was reached.“It’s a huge problem, and it’s not one that’s going to go away,” Daniel Platts, director of BDI Resourcing, which recruits doctors from outside the EEA, told Business Insider. He said his firm had more than 100 doctors on its books who had seen visas rejected since December alone.“That figure is going to grow next month,” he added. “These hospitals are waiting. They don’t have people to take these jobs.”

NHS increasingly concerned over skilled worker supply

Danny Mortimer, the chief executive of NHS Employers, said in a statement that NHS organisations are becoming “increasingly concerned at their inability to obtain permits for essential medical colleagues”.He added, “As we’ve been seeing across the country, the demand for employers for non-EEA talent is high in recent months. As the largest employer in Europe, the NHS is no exception.“We are in touch with both government officials and business membership bodies to find a way forward that works for both employers and the government.” 
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, who chairs the council f the British Medical Association, said, “Visa restrictions and arbitrary and outdated caps for non-EU workers entering the UK have made recruiting to NHS posts more difficult.“The NHS is reliant on the vital contribution of overseas doctors, often working in areas of medicine that are difficult to recruit to from the domestic workforce.“At a time of shortages of doctors in the NHS – and which could worsen post-Brexit – it is crucial that the UK has a flexible immigration system which allows the NHS to recruit the necessary staff to deliver safe, high-quality care.”

Filling positions post-Brexit

Mr Platts said one way to overcome the Tier 2 cap was for the government to add all doctor disciplines to the shortage occupation list. “How are the NHS going to fill (the vacancies) if they can’t go outside the EU?” he asked.“Even if we were to train more doctors, to get to the level these guys are at would be six years of medical school, two years of internship, two years of further training. So it’s ten years before you get to that point.”A Home Office spokesman told Business Insider that the restrictions were necessary in order to tackle levels of migration. “It is important that our immigration system works in the national interest, ensuring that employers look first to the UK resident labour market before recruiting from overseas,” he said.“The Tier 2 visa route is intended to fill gaps in the labour market. When demand exceeds the month’s allocation of Tier 2 (General) visas, priority is given to applicants filling a shortage or PhD-level occupations.”
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