Thousands of overseas nurses denied permission to work in England

New RCN figures reveal that more than 2,300 overseas nurses were denied permission to work in England last year

Thousands of overseas nurses were prevented from working in England last year, despite a chronic shortage of nursing staff in the NHS.

Figures published today by the RCN, following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), reveal that 2,341 applications by NHS trusts for certificates of sponsorship were refused between April and November 2015.

Trusts that want to recruit nurses from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) must apply to the Home Office for a certificate of sponsorship.

According to the RCN figures, 40% of the 69 NHS trusts that applied for certificates had some or all of their applications turned down.

This includes East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, which had all of its 300 applications made during this period rejected, and Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which applied for 100 certificates, all of which were turned down.

North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust had 53% of its 450 applications refused, Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust had 161 of its 242 applications turned down and London North West Healthcare NHS Trust had a third of its applications rejected.

After pressure from leading NHS organisations and unions, the government placed nursing on the shortage occupation list last October, which means that nurses are given priority when employers apply for the certificates.

But MAC is reviewing the decision and will make a recommendation by next month on whether nursing should remain on the list. 

RCN senior international adviser Susan Williams said the most likely reason for trusts to be denied certificates is not that the nurses did not meet the necessary requirements, but that a cap on the number of certificates that can be issued had been reached.

She said that salary is a key indicator for prioritising who gets the certificates, but because nurses do not earn around £50,000 to £60,000, they would have been 'bounced lower down the pecking order despite the trusts clearly needing them', during the period covered by the FOI when nursing was not on the shortage occupation list. 

She added: ‘It was a double whammy: the government did not accept that there was a shortage of nurses in the UK and so did not put nursing on the list, and when the migration cap was reached for the month, nurses were not given certificates.

‘It is key that the government accepts that we have a nursing shortage in the UK and that trusts must be able to recruit suitable nurses from outside the EEA.

‘If nursing is not kept on the shortage occupation list, trusts will be unable to recruit overseas nurses when it is patently obvious that they need to do so.’

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: 'There is still a workforce crisis in the NHS and until enough nurses are trained in the UK, health organisations must be able to recruit nurses from overseas. With the cap on spending on agency nurses now in effect, this is more urgent than ever.'

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