NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has called for the government to better “join up the dots” between immigration policies and their effect on the NHS and nurse recruitment.
He pointed specifically to new rules that mean overseas nurses will have to leave the country unless they earn at least £35,000 a year.
Speaking today in London at the Institute of Directors’ annual convention, which represents company directors and senior business leaders, Mr Stevens said “most hospitals” believed the policy “clearly needs a rethink”.
The new legislation, which comes into effect from April, requires migrant workers from outside the European Economic Area to have a salary of at least £35,000 after five years of working in the UK if they want to remain in the country.
“Most hospitals tell me the idea that we would seriously consider deporting some of our most experienced nurses solely because they’re not earning £35,000 clearly needs a rethink”
“Understandably we’re having a national discussion about how to get immigration right,” said Mr Stevens.
“My responsibility is to point out that, at a time when the need for nurses is growing, when publicly funded UK nurse training places will take several years to expand, and when agency staff costs are driving hospital overspends right now, we need to better join up the dots on immigration policy and the NHS,” he stated.
“We have written to the Home Office Migration Advisory Committee calling on nurses to be added to the shortage occupation “
Inclusion within the list would mean the profession is exempt from certain rules that restrict immigration and would make it easier to recruit from countries outside of Europe.
“Most nurses I speak to struggle to understand why our immigration rules define ballet dancers as a shortage occupation - but not nursing,” said Mr Stevens.
“And most hospitals tell me that the idea that we would seriously consider deporting some of our most experienced and committed nurses solely because they’re not earning £35,000 clearly needs a rethink,” he added.
Responding, NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said he welcomed Mr Stevens’ comments for highlighting the value of migrant nurses and doctors working in the NHS.
He reiterated that NHS Employers had written to the Home Office calling for action over a series of immigration rules affecting nurse recruitment.
“We have written to the Home Office Migration Advisory Committee calling on nurses to be added to the shortage occupation list,” he said.
“We know there are plans to train more nurses in the UK but it takes four years to deliver the training so we will not see the benefit until 2017,” said Mr Mortimer.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said it was “illogical” for nurses not to be considered a shortage occupation when wards and care homes across the country were understaffed.
“Since the RCN first raised these concerns, there is now a consensus across the health service that the Home Office must make a change,” she said.
She added: “It is an irrefutable fact that rising demand for health care, a shortage of home grown nurses, and new rules limiting the use of agency staff mean the NHS is reliant on overseas recruitment to provide safe patient care.
“Health care providers are telling the government that they need these rules to change if they are to provide safe care. Ignoring this issue any longer would be irresponsible, illogical and bad for patients.”