Senior nurses from the Royal College of Nursing are seeking to ratchet up pressure on the government regarding the threat to safe staffing posed by new immigration rules.
Under the new rules, nursing staff from outside the European Union who were granted “tier 2” visas after 6 April 2011 must leave the country if they fail to earn £35,000 or more after six years.
“Directors of nursing are concerned about the effect that changes to the immigration rules for overseas nurses will have on our ability to provide safe patient care”
The college has previously estimated that more than 3,000 overseas nurses currently working in the UK, who cost around £20m to recruit, could be forced to leave from 2017.
The RCN’s Executive Nurse Network, which represents around 200 senior nurses, has now issued a warning in The Times about the impact changes to the immigration rules will have on patient care.
In a letter to the newspaper today, network chair Irene Gray said: “Directors of nursing across the UK are concerned about the effect that changes to the immigration rules for overseas nurses will have on our ability to provide safe patient care.
“[The changes] will leave an already overstretched service, which has to date had to turn to overseas nurses to plug gaps caused by cuts to nurse training places and poor workforce planning, at even greater risk of a staffing shortfall,” she said.
She added: “Without a change to these immigration rules, the NHS, care homes and Independent health care providers will continue to pay millions of pounds to temporarily hire nurses from overseas which is in no one’s interests.”
The college highlighted the issue on the eve of its annual congress in June and both former RCN chief executive Peter Carter and NHS managers have recently written to ministers about their concerns.
Meanwhile, an online petition set up by a nurse to put pressure on the Home Office has been signed by over 50,000 people.
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But last weekend David Cameron said the NHS needed to get better at workforce planning and encouraging young people to study nursing, in response to questions on the new immigration rules.
The prime minister was asked directly about the issue affecting nurses from non-European countries in a radio interview with the BBC.