The leader of the Royal College of Nursing has written to MPs urging them to put pressure on the government to reverse a decision that could force overseas nurses to leave the UK.
Last month, the RCN warned that nurse recruitment will be under increasing strain in the coming years as new rules that require overseas workers to earn a minimum salary come into effect.
“It will be the health service, and ultimately patients, who will suffer the loss of these nurses’ vital skills and experience”
The legislation requires migrant workers from outside the European Economic Area to have a salary of at least £35,000 after six years of working in the UK if they want to remain in the country.
On the eve of its annual conference in June, the RCN claimed the law would mean that from 2017 thousands of overseas nurses could be forced to leave the UK and will create “chaos” for the NHS.
At RCN Congress, members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution to oppose the changes to the immigration rules.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter has now written to all MPs about the rule changes, noting that most nurses in the category affected earn between £21,000 and £28,000.
He reiterated RCN estimates that up to 3,365 nurses, who had cost the NHS £20.19m to recruit, would be forced to leave the country from 2017.
“If these nurses are forced to leave the UK, it will be an astonishing waste of NHS funds,” he said in the letter on 21 July (see attached PDF top-right).
“It will be the health service, and ultimately patients, who will suffer the loss of these nurses’ vital skills and experience,” he stated.
“There is already a dangerous shortage of UK nurses and we simply cannot afford to lose experienced nurses from the system,” he said. “As yet we have had no indication from the government of how they intend to plug this gap.”
Dr Carter noted that the Home Office’s own impact assessment of the changes acknowledged it was unlikely that nurses coming to the UK would be in a position to earn the required salary within five or six years.
“The RCN is extremely concerned and we have publicly reiterated our warning that this will exacerbate the current shortage of nurses in the UK,” he said.
Dr Carter also highlighted the Migration Advisory Committee’s “disappointing” decision last year not to recommend that nursing be added to the shortage occupation list.
It includes occupations deemed in short enough supply that they can be filled by overseas recruits from outside Europe.
“I urge you and your parliamentary colleagues to make the case to the home secretary for reconsidering including nursing on the shortage occupation list,” he said.