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MPs call for nurses to remain on shortage occupation list


Nurses must continue to be on the national shortage occupation list and exempt from immigration controls, while the government should set out plans to increase domestic nurse training places, according to a report by the Commons’ home affairs select committee.

The committee welcomed the recent intervention by the home secretary to place nurses on the list, which means it is now easier for employers to recruit from outside the European Union and parts of Scandinavia.

It said there could have been “immense consequences” throughout the NHS if this decision had not been taken, leaving thousands of unfilled nursing vacancies going into winter.

“It is clear to see that the [immigration cap] system could have caused a crisis in the NHS this winter…Nurses should remain on the shortage occupation list”

Keith Vaz

However, it noted this was only a temporary measure and that the decision will be reviewed by February 2016 when the Migration Advisory Committee will report back to the home secretary with recommendations.

By being placed on the list, nurses are exempt from a cap which restricts the number of general visas to 20,700 a year across all professions.

Over the summer, a number of trusts and the NHS Employers organisation wrote to the home secretary saying the cap meant overseas nurses were being refused visas.

This was due to a prioritisation of higher salary applicants which comes into effect once the cap is under pressure - which in June meant a minimum salary of £46,000 was required for a visa, according to the committee.

”A consensus has formed across the health service that cutting the supply of overseas nurses risks patient care”

Janet Davies

In its report published on Friday, the select committee said it would support a decision for nurses to remain on the list.

It added: “One of the aims of the cap is to incentivise training and recruitment of domestically trained nurses.

“We ask the government, in its response to this report, to set out its plans to increase the number of nurse training places available, and confirm whether nurses will remain on the shortage occupation list until such time as the number of domestically trained nurses reaches the Department of Health’s target.”

The committee also said it was pleased the decision to place nurses on the list meant they were also now exempt from rules which could risk them being forced to leave the country if they did not earn £35,000 after five years.

Overall, in its report about skill shortages, the committee concluded the government’s immigration cap which restricts general visas to 20,700 a year “does not fit” and “may even be counter-productive”.

It claimed the cap was having no effect on bringing down net migration, due to the amount of people entering the UK every year being hundreds of thousands.

Janet Davies

Janet Davies

Janet Davies

“When the cap was reached earlier this year, we saw the perverse effects of the system, as the cap prioritises higher paid jobs. In June, nurses were being prevented from working in the UK, which necessitated the government taking emergency measures to allow recruitment to continue,” said committee chair Keith Vaz.

“Whilst this was a very welcome move, it is clear to see that the system could have caused a crisis in the NHS this winter. A system which encourages panicked adjustments to be functional is not fit for purpose. Nurses should remain on the shortage occupation list,” he said.

Responding, the Royal College of Nursing said the report recognised the nursing shortage was not a short term issue.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “Since the RCN first raised this issue and lobbied for a change to the immigration rules, a consensus has formed across the health service that cutting the supply of overseas nurses risks patient care.

“The health service must now have a long-term workforce strategy to ensure the UK has enough nurses to cope with rising demand now and in the future. Anything less would be failing patients.”

Danny Mortimer, chief Executive of NHS Employers, echoed the RCN’s comments, adding: “The health and social care sector is experiencing unprecedented demand on services and this has a direct impact on the need for skilled clinical staff to be employed to deliver care to patients.

“Nursing needs to be on the shortage occupation list on a more permanent basis and be more responsive to changing needs in demand.”


Readers' comments (6)

  • 1 bring back the Diploma in Adult Nursing
    2 do not remove the bursary
    I work in FE there are hundreds of young people that want to enter the profession but the barriers that are being put in their path make it harder and harder

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  • Here here

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  • Increasing registered nurses salaries and remuneration packages to meet minimum visa requirements would definitely increase recruitment and retention.
    Bursaries were not ideal, but they are much better than student loans. Some students might not be eligible for loans, and most people would end up with more debts. If nursing students had to pay for tuition fees, it would not help increase student numbers, even if there were more places available and does not address attrition caused by the various challenging aspects of the pre-registration programme.
    It might be better to pay people for the hours they work/train in clinical practice. There would be greater incentive to turn up on time, if pay gets deducted when arriving late (and thus work fewer hours). Below a certain point, they would also not have done the required number of hours to qualify. Students would still have to meet hours of clinical practice as well as meeting all the required competencies.

    With an ageing population, increasing numbers of nurses retiring, changing professions / leaving the NHS (not being met by so-called increased student numbers), and complexity of care increasing, the numbers of experienced nurses are clearly not enough to ensure safe care for everybody all the time. It feels like every other week there is bad news of sub-standard care. It takes time for newly qualified nurses to consolidate their skills and gain experience, it takes time for nurses from abroad to learn to communicate more effectively with patients from this country, as well as everyone learning to communicate with patients from other countries, different learning needs, neurological conditions, etc.
    MPs should try working a few weeks, eg during Christmas, Easter + Summer recesses from Parliament, in various parts of hospital + community care, they might gain better first-hand insight with some of the challenges faced by nursing staff. Also the difference between a HCA's (as most are not registrants) pay and their MP pay (including employers pension contributions) should also be donated to a nursing charity. Don't think this would be very much, but it would really help those in need and support.

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  • Simple, up the salary to a decent level and the £46k+ criteria wouldn't be an issue and people domestically may be attracted into the profession. It shouldn't all be about the money which means nurses should not have to do 2-3 jobs to make ends meet.
    Gone are the days of subsidised accommodation, preferential pension, workplace nurseries etc graduates at Aldi get more than a typical nurse even after many years experience.

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  • Giving NHS Trusts incentives to provide secondments to their present employees would be a great way of encouraging already commited and caring staff; staff who are already used to being paid a pitence for working above and beyond their job descriptions! My Trust offers just 10 places and is one of the largest in the South East. If every Trust was encouraged to sponsor at least 50 of it's staff perhaps there would be a chance of creating those home grown nurses everyone talks about.

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  • Yes I agree with this but what about all British trained nurses leaving because of the pressures on them.all the older nurses who would have stayed a few more years if not of revalidation.which should have been except for older nurses due to retire.I am sure thousands win retire early. What a mess

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