Government advisors have recommended against nursing being added to the list of occupations in short enough supply that they can be “sensibly” filled by overseas recruits from outside Europe.
The Royal College of Nursing responded by saying its evidence to the advisors had been “misrepresented” and that it was “deeply disappointed”.
The Migration Advisory Committee, which offers independent advice to ministers on migration issues, was asked to carry out a partial review of the shortage occupation list in September.
It was sparked by the government identifying a small number of occupations where it thought there might be a case for inclusion from the list since the committee’s last full review in February 2013.
These occupations included graduate occupations within the health sector, including consultant roles, nurses and training grades.
“The health sector told us that, nationally, they do not need any jobs in nursing to be on the shortage list”
However, following its latest partial review, published yesterday, the committee said nurses were not recommended for inclusion, as it “did not receive evidence of a national shortage”.
The committee based its judgement largely on evidence from the Centre for Workforce Intelligence, which it said “essentially distilled” workforce information from relevant organisations such NHS providers, unions and the Department of Health.
It said the evidence suggested that nurse vacancies were largely caused by recruitment freezes and redundancies due to budgetary pressures. As a result, including adult nurses on the shortage occupation list “would not be effective at reducing the number of vacancies”.
Instead, it suggested better use should be made of existing mechanisms to fill nursing vacancies, such as Health Education England’s return to practice campaign.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Migration Advisory Committee has significantly misrepresented the position of the RCN”
Additionally, it noted that 96% of campaigns aimed at recruiting overseas nurses were focussed on countries within Europe – particularly Spain, Ireland and Portugal – indicating that the numbers of nurses entering the UK from elsewhere were a “very small proportion” of the nursing workforce.
Likewise, GPs did not make it onto the list, though the committee noted that it been “particularly difficult to determine whether or not to include them”.
As part of its review, the committee also recommended that specialist nurses working in neonatal or paediatric intensive care units who had previously been on the list should now be removed.
However, it said paramedics and various medical roles in clinical radiology, paediatrics, psychiatry and emergency medicine should be added.
As well as the health roles, low voltage overhead linesworkers and senior jobs in digital technology are also set to join the list. In total, the committee recommended 10 jobs be added.
Committee chair Professor Sir David Metcalf said: “The health sector told us that, nationally, they do not need any jobs in nursing to be on the shortage list but we agreed with their assessment that there is presently a shortage of skilled paramedics.”
But Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “We are deeply disappointed that the Migration Advisory Committee has significantly misrepresented the position of the RCN in order to claim that there is no shortage of staff in the nursing profession.
“We will be contacting the committee about this as a matter of urgency and would urge them to reconsider their position in the light of this misinterpreted evidence,” he said.
“Let us be very clear: we provided detailed, extensive and unambiguous evidence of the shortage of nurses in the UK and the effect this was having on patients,” he said.
He added: “Recruiting from overseas is not a sensible long-term solution to a profound nursing shortage, but…today it is absolutely necessary. This means recruiting and retaining nurses from outside the EU as well, given the projected shortage of half a million nurses across Europe over the next five years.”