Government urged to keep nursing on shortage occupation list

A report by the Home Affairs Committee calling for nursing to remain a shortage occupation has been welcomed by the RCN

A report on immigration and skills shortages has made a stark assessment of the current lack of qualified nurses in the UK.

The government’s home affairs committee published details of its recent investigations into current immigration trends with a particular focus on the employment visas being acquired by non-European economic area (EEA) migrants.

It began hearing evidence from interested parties, including the RCN, around the time the government agreed to place nursing on its shortage occupation list.

In the conclusion section of the report they write: ‘Had this not been done, there would have been thousands of unfilled nursing vacancies going into winter.

‘Potentially, this could have had immense consequences throughout the NHS and we would support a decision for nurses to remain on the shortage occupation list.’

The migration advisory committee is in charge of deciding whether nursing should remain on the shortage occupation list and is gathering evidence until the end of the month ahead of its own report in February.

The RCN’s immigration advice service also recently urged non-EEA nurses holding tier 2 visas to apply for indefinite leave to remain, because while nursing is on the shortage occupation list they no longer have to be earning £35,000 after five years to stay in the UK.

In 2011 the government introduced a cap limiting the number of tier 2 visas which can be issued in a year to 20,700, a move it justified as aiming to stimulate the growth of domestically trained workers.

RCN head of policy Howard Catton was one of the members giving evidence to the committee, but his evidence shows this aim is not being met.

His evidence states: ‘Figures from the RCN show that the number of nurse training commissions peaked in recent years at 24,527 in 2004/05 and then broadly fell each year to a low of 17,442 in 2012/13 before again increasing each year to 20,183 in 2015/16.

‘The RCN also pointed out that between 2009 and 2014 there was a 33% increase in the number of people applying to study nursing in England, but in 2014 only 40% of those who applied were accepted on a course.’

The report concludes: ‘One of the aims of the cap is to incentivise training and recruitment of domestically trained nurses.

‘We ask the government, in its response to this report, to set out its plans to increase the number of nurse training places available, and confirm whether nurses will remain on the shortage occupation list until such time as the number of domestically trained nurses reaches the Department of Health’s target (23,000 by 2019).

RCN general secretary Janet Davies called the report ‘essential reading for the government and migration advisory committee’, and added: ‘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 risks patient care.

‘The health service must now have a long-term workforce strategy to ensure the UK has enough nurses to cope with rising demand now and in the future.’

To read the full report click here

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