Unions are calling on the government to exempt the NHS and wider health and social care system from an immigration charge that they warn could worsen staff shortages across the health service.
The Royal College of Nursing and British Medical Association have jointly written to home secretary Amber Rudd in protest about the immigration skills charge, which comes into force on 6 April.
“The government risks turning off the supply of qualified nurses from around the world”
The charge will require an upfront charge of £1,000 to be made to employers for each year of an overseas nurse’s tier 2 visa – issued to skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area.
They explained that, if the charge had been applied to registered nurses in 2015-16, frontline NHS employers would have paid £2.1m for 2,144 overseas nurses recruited from outside of Europe.
The RCN and BMA said in their letter to Ms Rudd that they believed it was unfair to penalise health and social care employers for recruiting clinicians to fill workforce gaps because an EU national cannot be found to fill the post.
Checks and balances were already in place to ensure posts were first offered to UK or other EU nationals through the resident labour market test, note RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies and BMA chair Dr Mark Porter in the letter.
The letter calls on the government to exempt the NHS and the wider health and social care system from the charges, in order to avoid making existing staff shortages even more severe.
Ms Davies said: “The government risks turning off the supply of qualified nurses from around the world at the very moment the health service is in a staffing crisis like never before.
“Forcing this charge on NHS and other services will worsen the funding crisis and harm the standard of patient care,” she said.
“Until the government begins to train enough nurses here, it should exempt the international workforce that UK health care heavily relies on,” she added.
The warning comes as the chief nursing officer for England is set to warn in a keynote speech that overseas nurses from EU countries will need support in the coming months, as uncertainty over Brexit continues.