Ten trusts along with NHS Employers have written to home secretary Theresa May urging her to take action over immigration rules which organisations have claimed are preventing them from recruiting the nurses they need this winter.
They said many nurses from outside the European Economic Area were seeing their visa applications rejected due to the way they are assessed.
In their letter sent today, the trust chiefs and NHS Employers said this was compromising patient safety and leaving a shortage of nurses at a “crucial” time.
They urged the Home Office to add nurses to the shortage occupation list, which would make it easier for NHS organisations to recruit nurses from outside the EEA.
“There remains significant numbers of outstanding applications for entry to the UK to take up nursing posts in our hospitals”
They also called for a review of the system used to allocate sponsorship certificates – required for a visa – to overseas workers.
They said the system disadvantages nurses due to salary being used as one of the main determinants for allocation.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, claimed that due to the high demand for immigration certificates in June and July all of the applications for nurses were rejected.
“Whilst there was some improvement in August, with 200 certificates being issued there remains significant numbers of outstanding applications for entry to the UK to take up nursing posts in our hospitals,” he said.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today Programme this morning, Mr Mortimer added that trusts were looking to recruit at least a further 1,000 nurses from outside the European Union, on top of the 1,000 they were already seeking.
“[This year] we saw a dramatic increase in the number of nurses we needed because of the real pressure…we’ve faced over recent winters”
“We saw a dramatic increase in the number of nurses we needed because of the real pressure in terms of emergency demand that we’ve faced over recent winters. The request we’re making to the home secretary is a very specific one,” he said.
The Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive Janet Davies echoed the concerns over the immigration rules, saying that in the short term “trusts must be able to recruit the nurses they need from overseas”.
A Home Office spokeswoman said NHS trusts have been given more than 1,400 certificates of sponsorship for nurses since April this year but more than 600 of the places allocated to them in April and May this year have been returned unused.
She said the Home Office had no plans to change the level of the annual limit of 20,700 places.
“The independent Migration Advisory Committee, which took evidence from a number of NHS trusts and representative bodies from across the UK, recommended against adding nurses to the shortage occupation list earlier this year,” she added.
This is the second time NHS Employers has written to the Home Office in the space of a month over immigration rules.
In August, it wrote about concerns over changes to immigration rules which mean non-EU nurses earning less than £35,000 a year, and who have been in the UK for six years, will have to leave the country from April next year.