Overseas nurse recruitment restrictions lifted to ease staffing pressures at hospitals
- Credit: PA
Restrictions on recruiting nurses from overseas have been temporarily lifted to aid recruitment.
Nurses will be added to the Government's Shortage Occupation List, which means nurses from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will have their applications prioritised.
The Department of Health said the move was designed to ease pressure on the NHS at a time when the Government has introduced a cap on NHS trusts hiring expensive agency staff.
It comes after North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham raised concerns about new immigration laws amid nursing shortages at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn.
He told MPs earlier this week that the King's Lynn hospital recruited skilled medical staff from India and the Philippines after it had struggled to recruit enough British nurses.
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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: '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.
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'We are also recruiting more home-grown nurses than ever to deliver a truly seven-day NHS.
'There are already more than 8,000 additional nurses on our wards since 2010 and we are investing in our future workforce with a record 50,000 nurses currently in training.'
The temporary change will be subject to review by the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which will present further evidence to the Government by next February.
According to the Government, Health Education England has increased nurse training places by 14% over the last two years and are forecasting that more than 23,000 extra nurses will be in place by 2019.
Unison general secretary, Dave Prentis, said current staffing levels were too low in many areas.
He said: 'At long last, the Government has realised just how much the NHS relies on its migrant nurses.
'By cutting the number of student nurse places, ministers created a serious recruitment crisis in the heath service. And that is why NHS trusts have been forced to recruit from outside the European Union for the last two years.'
The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) said the move may prompt a 'significant increase' in the number of overseas nurses wishing to work in the UK.
It aims to process applications from non-EU trained nurses within 70 days.
NMC chief executive Jackie Smith said: 'Our processes for admitting nurses and midwives who have trained outside the EU are clear, robust and effective.
'Applicants must be able to demonstrate that they have the knowledge, understanding and application of professional skills at the right level and they must also go through a full identification check as well as meet the English language requirements.
'We understand that placing nursing on the Shortage Occupation List may prompt a significant increase in the numbers of overseas-trained nurses wishing to join the NMC's register. We are confident that we have the resources and capacity to process an increased volume of applications over the coming months.'
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said of the announcement: 'This reversal is a real victory for nurses, the health service and most of all patients.
'Since the RCN first raised this issue and lobbied for a change to the immigration rules, a consensus has formed across the health service that cutting the supply of overseas nurses risked patient care.
'The Government must now extend this common sense approach to the issue of training and retaining more nurses in the long-term and significantly increasing student nurse training places so that patients in the UK are no longer at the mercy of global workforce trends.'
The announcement comes after senior NHS figures warned that 'stringent' immigration rules were preventing them from recruiting enough nurses.
The heads of 10 leading trusts, along with the NHS Employers organisation, wrote to the Home Secretary about the issue.
NHS Employers has said 1,000 certificates of sponsorship, which allow nurses from outside Europe to work in the UK, will be needed in the next six months.