Hunt temporarily lifts nursing immigration restrictions

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has temporarily lifted restrictions on recruiting overseas nurses in order to aid existing shortages.

Nurses will be added to the government’s shortage occupation list, meaning non-EU nurses will have their applications prioritised.

Amid grave concerns that existing restrictions on nursing employment would open up a hole in the profession, Hunt decided that “safe staffing across all our hospitals and care homes is a crucial priority”.

“The temporary changes announced today will ensure the NHS has the nurses it needs to deliver the highest standards of care without having to rely on rip-off staffing agencies that cost the taxpayer billions of pounds a year.

“We are also recruiting more homegrown nurses than ever to deliver a truly seven-day NHS,” he added.

Home secretary Theresa May is set to write to the Migration Advisory Committee requesting that nurses be placed on the shortage occupation list. The committee will then review whether the move should be a permanent one.

Hunt’s decision follows warnings from both Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority (TDA) that agency spending was one of the primary reasons for providers racking up an unprecedented £1bn deficit during the first quarter of the year.

It was announced just a day after Hunt decided to impose a strict agency spending cap from November, in order to drive out excessive agency backfill and mitigate the soaring costs tied to it.

Most providers and organisations had been calling for relaxed immigration rules since NHS Employers revealed they were causing rising agency costs, harming patient safety and causing staff shortages at a crucial time of need.

Even NHS England boss, Simon Stevens, urged the government to rethink its new policies which would see thousands of lower-earning nurses deported from the country.

Speaking at the Institute of Directors annual convention in London last week, Stevens said that it was his responsibility to point out that “we need to better ‘join up the dots’ on immigration policy and the NHS” at a time when the need for nurses is growing.

Following today’s announcement, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “We know employers across England will welcome this support from the government for their efforts to deliver safe services this winter, and to also reduce their reliance on more expensive agency staff.

“We will continue our focused work with the NHS and our colleagues in the wider health and social care provision to ensure that the Migration Advisory Committee receive robust evidence to enable nursing to remain on the list of shortage occupations.”

Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer for England, also praised today's "outbreak of common sense" following Stevens' calls last week.

She said: "Nurses and other health professionals from overseas have always played an important role in our NHS – this change means that we can recruit and no longer face the potential loss of some of our most experienced and committed nurses."

And an NHS Providers spokesperson said it’s good to see government and NHS system leaders reacting rapidly to frontline feedback that change in immigration rules was essential.

But they added: “We must also recognise that there are significant longer term issues here. It’s easy to see control of agency staffing rates only through the prism of cost control and provider deficit reduction.

“But there is also a vital element of how we create the right long-term working environment for nurses and allied health professionals.”


Equi   15/10/2015 at 17:10

The NHS has always run on immigrant nurses and doctors. Every now and then "someone'' decides we need to stop "letting them in" and within weeks the NHS can feel the pinch and the new rules need to be reversed... having said that, everybody now seems to jump on the "agency rip-off" bandwagon.. even if all the agency nurses were to become staff nurses there would still be a huge shortage of nurses (same for doctors). The trusts are not forced to pay those rates! there are different agencies and they all charge different rates. The trusts could pay their nurses living wages then maybe they wouldn't need agency staff... Maybe some of the taxes could be used to increase nurse wages instead of increasing politician wages!! The same politicians that decided to stop subsidising nurse education, to stop letting migrant nurses and doctors in the country, to stop providing affordable nurse accommodation... The same politicians that caused all the hundreds of other problems we can read about...

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