Workforce and Training

13.06.18

May expected to relax controversial immigration cap on overseas NHS doctors

Theresa May is expected to accede to demands from her cabinet and relax the immigration rules which currently prevent the NHS from hiring sufficient numbers of overseas doctors.

Today’s news comes after home secretary Sajid Javid confirmed that the tier 2 visa cap would be revised, with a number of his colleagues wanting him “to take a look at this.”

It is not known when she will be making that announcement, or if health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt will be making it on her behalf at this week’s Confed18 conference in Manchester – but well-placed sources told the Guardian that the government has finally come to terms with the need to scrap the controversial recruitment limits.

If the relaxation of the rules goes ahead, thousands more doctors will be able to work in the UK health service – a triumph which many NHS organisations and campaigners have been seeking for many years.

National media also reports that Hunt and Javid have also been privately lobbying the prime minister to ease the existing restrictions, which barred over 2,000 doctors from outside the EEA between just November and April this year. Under the current system, just 20,700 overseas skilled workers can come to work in Britain on a tier 2 visa every year.

According to the Guardian’s sources, the government has decided that the NHS’s immigration system should be treated differently because of its urgent need for more doctors. It is expected that a separate system will be created to enable hospitals to hire highly-skilled doctors without the impediment of tight visa rules.

It is not yet known if nurses will also be considered under this separate system, although they are already classed as a shortage occupation.

The Home Office has said that any relaxation of the policy must be agreed by the end of this week to ensure that any changes can be in place by the third quarter of the year, at which time newly-qualified young doctors start their NHS training.

Head of analysis at NHS Providers, Phillippa Hentsch said: “This is going to be a huge relief for trusts that have been struggling to fill their doctor and nursing vacancies. Recruitment problems caused by the cap have resulted in rota gaps, often filled by paying premium locum rates. That is not good for continuity of care for patients, or for trusts’ finances.

“It is vital too that training here is expanded to meet the longer term workforce needs in health and social care. The draft workforce strategy, published last autumn by Health Education England, was a sensible and constructive start to that process, but the plans will take time to deliver, so the NHS needs to be supported to recruit from overseas for the foreseeable future.”

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