David Cameron has said the NHS needs to get better at workforce planning and encouraging young people to study nursing, in response to questions on the government’s 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 over the weekend.
“Of course, foreign nurses coming in make a massive contribution to our NHS and will continue to do”
Changes to immigration rules will mean non-EU nurses earning less than £35,000 a year, and who have been in the UK for six years, being forced to leave the country from April next year.
There have been growing concerns in recent months regarding the changes, given the health service’s traditional reliance on overseas nurses and also its proactive efforts in the last couple of years to recruit foreign staff to fill gaps in the wake of the Francis report and safe staffing guidance.
The Royal College of Nursing highlighted the issue on the eve of its annual congress in June and, as revealed last week, managers have written to the government 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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However, so far, the calls for the profession to be exempted from the immigration changes appear to have been rejected by ministers.
Mr Cameron appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday morning to mark 100 days since the Conservatives won the general election.
Interviewer Justin Webb asked Mr Cameron why he wanted to cut the number of skilled workers entering the UK by raising the minimum earnings requirements for people with so-called tier 2 visas.
“We should be better at knowing how many nurses we’re going to need in our NHS and making sure we’re encouraging our young people to train for nursing”
The prime minister said: “When it comes to people coming here to work, obviously we ought to be doing more to train our own people to do the jobs that the growth in our economy is throwing up.
“Over time, businesses should be looking at those so-called shortage occupations – occupations where people have come from overseas to work – and saying, well we can train these engineers [etc],” he said.
However, Mr Webb then specifically raised the issue of nurses from Commonwealth countries.
In response, Mr Cameron said: “Again, let’s make sure we’re training nurses here in the UK.
“Of course, foreign nurses coming in make a massive contribution to our NHS and will continue to do,” he said.
“But we should be better at workforce planning – knowing how many nurses we’re going to need in our NHS – and making sure we’re encouraging our young people to train for nursing and we’re making available the training places, and that’s what’s happening,” said Mr Cameron.
He added: “I’ve always said, you can only control immigration if you also control welfare and you also have a positive training programme for the jobs that your economy has created.”