A pilot scheme to allow EU nurses and other health and social care staff working across the UK apply for “settled status” has been delayed, Nursing Times has learned.
The trial of the EU Settlement Scheme was due to be extended to all health and social care workers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland this week.
“After a successful first test phase, we are now rolling out the scheme more widely”
However, Nursing Times has been told that this latest phase of the pilot has been delayed to allow for improvements to the application process.
The scheme allows EU citizens to apply for “settled status” to continue living and working in the UK post-Brexit.
The Home Office has been testing the scheme starting with small-scale pilots covering a number of NHS trusts in the North West.
The trial was due to be extended to health and social care staff across the UK from yesterday – 29 November.
However, a source told Nursing Times the rollout had been held back following feedback from people taking part in the initial phases of the pilot.
Some “minor adjustments” were being made and eligible staff should be able to apply from early next week, Nursing Times was told.
The delay is likely to be greeted with dismay by nursing leaders who have been pushing for assurances for EU nursing staff in the wake of the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
While the Royal College of Nursing has welcomed the decision to prioritise health and social care staff, it has warned the settlement scheme may be “too late” for the many who have already decided to leave or not to both coming to the UK in the first place.
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However, it told Nursing Times it was committed to supporting EU nurses through the process as soon as it got under way.
Some NHS trusts in London have already pledged to cover the cost for nurses applying to the EU Settlement Scheme in a bid to encourage them to stay on.
The scheme is due to open to all EU citizens and their family members by March 2019 but until then is being rolled out in stages.
EU employees at 12 trusts and staff and students at three universities in the North West were the first to try out the system during a test phase from the end of August to mid-October.
Source: Steve Cadman
This saw EU NHS workers attend “pop-up application centres” at their places of work and complete applications online supported by staff from UK Visas & Immigration. In all, 1,053 applications were made – although not all participants tried out the ID check app.
The evaluation found “minor changes” were needed to improve users’ experience of the application process with 94% who completed feedback agreeing the application process was easy to complete.
Further testing was due to be carried out from the start of November – this time incorporating the ID check app and the effectiveness of a new support service called the Settlement Resolution Centre.
Evaluation of this phase has yet to be made public but it seems feedback has led to additional tweaks and a delay in the wider rollout of the scheme.
Plans for the rollout published on the Home Office website show it was due to be extended to more university staff and children in care on November 15 and then to all health and social care staff on November 29.
Under the published timetable EU nurses wishing to apply during this latest pilot phase would have around a month to get their applications in by the deadline of December 22 – just before Christmas.
It is not known if the deadline will be extended given the delay in launching this latest stage of the trial.
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The Home Office said the trial phases were an opportunity to test the technology and ensure the sc scheme worked based on real-life feedback.
“The EU Settlement Scheme will make it simple and straightforward for EU citizens to get the status they need,” said a Home Office spokesman
“After a successful first test phase, we are now rolling out the scheme more widely in a second private beta test phase, with the number of organisations that are participating significantly increasing. Some vulnerable people with additional support needs are also included.
“This phase will focus on the digital elements of the application process and will allow us to get further feedback from real applicants, so we can make any necessary adjustments.”