RCN congress

Thousands of overseas nurses will be forced to leave, RCN warns

College urges government to rethink 'illogical' immigration rules that will send many staff home, despite ongoing shortages

More than 3,300 nurses from outside the European Economic Area currently working in the UK could be forced to return home due to changes to immigration rules, the RCN warns.

At a press conference to open RCN congress in Bournemouth this week, RCN general secretary Peter Carter condemned the 'illogical' new rules, which will come into effect in April next year.

'For years to come, we are going to be dependent on overseas nurses because we cut the supply line and we are not catching up,' he said.

'I would say hundreds of NHS trusts are wanting to recruit from overseas. So how illogical it is that you are doing all of that and then potentially in a few years’ time these people are going to have to leave the country. It just doesn’t make sense.'

He went on to warn that 200,000 nurses are due retire in the next ten years and the UK is not training enough nurses to replace them.

'The supply line was cut just after the 2010 general eclection. We were training just over 20,000, that dropped to just under 17,000 and now we are playing catch up, but we are still not back to May 2010 numbers,' said Dr Carter.

'It is increasingly becoming more attractive for nurses to go and work in places like Australia, the Middle East and America, where the pay, terms and conditions and staffing levels are that much more attractive. How illogical that we are losing these people overseas and yet going to other countries and bringing them in to compensate for the shortfall.

'And a lot of nurses are increasingly leaving full-time NHS employment to work for agencies because they can get a little bit more money and there’s more flexibility.'

Research by the RCN suggests the changes to the immigration rules will exacerbate the shortage of nurses in the UK and cost the NHS millions.

Migrant workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) must be earning a salary of at least £35,000 after five years to be allowed to stay in the UK for more than six years. Those who do not qualify will be told to leave.

Dr Carter told the conference: 'It is a classic example of a lack of joined-up thinking. You’ve got one government department, the Home Office, that comes up with this notion that anyone not earning £35,000 after five years cannot stay. Across the road at the Department of Health, there are all of these initiatives to fill the shortfall.

'I wrote on February 6 to home secretary Theresa May asking for this to be reviewed and then we got into the general election and we have not had a response. So we are going to write again to ask 'what are we going to do about this?',' he said.

The rules will start to affect the NHS in April 2017. The RCN estimates that up to 3,365 nurses who have been working here since April 2011 – and who the NHS will have spent around £20.19 million recruiting – might be required to leave in 2017.

Later today nurses at RCN congress will vote on a resolution calling on the govenment to reverse its decision.

The college wants the Home Office to add nursing to the list of shortage occupations and to reconsider the £35,000 threshold. It also wants Health Education England to increase the number of UK nurse training places as a matter of urgency, to reduce reliance on overseas recruitment.

The RCN paints an even more worrying picture by 2020. Based on the estimate that 665 nurses from the EEA register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council every year on average, the RCN predicts that 6,620 nurses – who cost around £39.7 million to recruit – will be affected by the salary threshold rule by 2020.

Furthermore, if workforce pressures continue, the UK will need to recruit up to 8,000 overseas nurses per year by 2020, the college says.

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