The Scottish government has said it will increase efforts to recruit nurses and other health care staff from overseas to address staffing shortages following the relaxation of UK visa rules.
The announcement was made by health secretary Shona Robison who said additional international recruitment activity would focus on specialities and professional groups facing the worst shortages and most likely to be hit by Brexit.
It follows the UK government’s decision to lift a cap on the numbers of nurses and doctors who can be employed via the Tier 2 visa route.
Speaking at the NHS Scotland Annual Event in Glasgow yesterday, Ms Robison confirmed the Scottish government would extend its efforts to attract overseas nursing, medical and specialist health staff in light of the change to immigration rules.
She said extra efforts to recruit from abroad would build on recruitment campaigns already being developed for nursing, midwifery, social care and GPs.
The NHS in Scotland “benefits enormously” from the contribution made by staff from other countries but the UK’s forthcoming withdrawal from the EU was already having an impact on numbers willing to come and work in Scottish health services, said Ms Robison.
“We know there are issues with vacancies across Scotland. The current system of free movement allows skilled, experienced health professionals from across the EU to work in our NHS, filling vacancies in hard to recruit specialisms or in parts of the country with staffing challenges,” she said.
“Brexit is already impacting on this, so we are taking action now to try and mitigate against the damage from Brexit on our health and care workforce.”
She welcomed the move to relax the visa regulations for “vital, highly skilled” international nursing and medical staff.
“We have already committed to recruitment campaigns for nursing, midwifery, social care and GPs this year,” she said.
“So we will now expand international recruitment activity further and focus on specialties and professional groups which have recruitment challenges and are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of EU withdrawal.”
The Scottish government told Nursing Times the plans for additional overseas recruitment had yet to be finalised. “There will be more information coming out in the year ahead as we undertake this work in partnership with health boards and in consultation with professional bodies like the royal colleges, who have links with their partner colleges across the globe,” said a spokeswoman.
Norman Provan, Associate Director Employment Relations at the RCN in Scotland, said: “It is crucial that there are plans in place to secure the health and care workforce in Scotland post Brexit. The Scottish Government’s move to secure the skills of nursing staff from outside the EU is a welcome step, particularly in light of the current levels of vacancies in Scotland’s nursing workforce.”
He added that the contribution made by nurses and health care support workers whose home country is not the UK is immense and it must be valued. “That is why the RCN wants to see the rights of EEA nationals already working in the sector preserved, and an approach taken to future migration which reflects the skills, experience and expertise which health professionals from around the world bring to Scotland.”
It was also “essential” that the Scottish Government considers how it can boost the domestic nursing workforce by increasing the number of training opportunities for home grown talent, he said.