Analysis

Relief for staff and employers as visa threat lifts for overseas nurses

Home secretary Theresa May says she is prepared to ease visa restrictions on foreign nurses who have come to the UK to work.

Picture credit: Garry Parsons

It means constraints on employing nurses who have come from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and are earning less than 35,000 a year have been temporarily lifted.

In addition, non-EEA nurses will be prioritised when they apply for the certificates of sponsorship they require to be eligible to work in the UK.

The home secretary said she was willing to make an exception for the nursing profession, among others, because of the potential risks associated with high vacancy rates and anticipated pressures on the NHS over the winter.

The independent Migration Advisory Committee had said in February that nursing should not be added to the shortage occupation list.

February review

However, Ms May acknowledged that since then, increasing numbers of employers had raised concerns about nurse staffing problems. She said the governments intention to achieve a seven-day NHS, as well as

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Picture credit: Garry Parsons

It means constraints on employing nurses who have come from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and are earning less than £35,000 a year have been temporarily lifted.

In addition, non-EEA nurses will be prioritised when they apply for the certificates of sponsorship they require to be eligible to work in the UK.

The home secretary said she was willing to make an exception for the nursing profession, among others, because of the potential risks associated with high vacancy rates and anticipated pressures on the NHS over the winter.

The independent Migration Advisory Committee had said in February that nursing should not be added to the ‘shortage occupation’ list.

February review

However, Ms May acknowledged that since then, increasing numbers of employers had raised concerns about nurse staffing problems. She said the government’s intention to achieve a seven-day NHS, as well as new rules on how much NHS organisations can spend on agency nurses, had to be considered too.

The issue will be reviewed by the Migration Advisory Committee by next February, when it will look again at whether there is a shortage of nurses or specific nursing jobs that could be filled by the migration of non-EEA nurses.

The RCN and Unison were among a number of organisations that lobbied for nursing to be placed on the shortage occupation list.

Unison’s head of nursing Gail Adams says it is about time nursing was placed on the list but questions why it has taken so long.

She says the process that overseas-trained nurses must go through to work in the UK means it takes time for them to be in post.

Ms Adams adds: ‘We also need to think about looking after them socially when they do arrive. Starting a new job can be daunting for anyone, especially if you are miles away from your home country.’

She believes nursing should be classed as a shortage occupation for a minimum of three years to allow home-grown students and graduates to go through the system. ‘We need a consistent, coherent and co-ordinated national approach to workforce planning,’ she says.

We need to have a coherent approach to this issue – Gail Adams

RCN general secretary Janet Davies says the government must train and retain more nurses in the long-term and increase significantly nursing student training places to ensure patients are not ‘at the mercy of global workforce trends’.

The numbers of non-EEA nurses joining the Nursing and Midwifery Council register fell in 2013/14 but rose this year, according to NMC figures. So far this year, 1,210 non-EEA nurses have joined the NMC register compared to 7,266 from the EU and 14,411 from the UK.

Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust sent a recruitment team to the Philippines earlier this year.

The organisation finally secured approval for certificates of sponsorship for 40 nurses last week after three previous attempts.

The trust employs 4,500 nurses and has 300 nurse vacancies. It is attempting to recruit locally.

Director of nursing and patient services Helen Lamont says: ‘There is a nursing shortage in this country. I know there has been extra training but it takes a number of years to go through the process. Without these [Filipino] nurses, it is going to be difficult to staff the wards this winter.’

Around 3.5% of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s 2,600 nurses are trained outside the UK. But the nurse vacancy rate from ward and main clinical areas has increased to 11.4% or 247 full-time-equivalent posts against the trust’s target of 5% for registered nurses.

Valued colleagues

The trust began a recruitment campaign in August last year, but focused its attentions on the UK and Europe. A spokesperson says that the government’s announcement means the trust can now attempt to recruit non-EEA nurses.

Chief nurse Ann-Marie Ingle says: ‘This will bring enormous relief to our existing staff and enable us to continue to recruit high-quality nurses from around the world. We recognise and value our colleagues from countries outside Europe including the Philippines. They are an integral part of our workforce, especially during this time of national shortages.’

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer expressed his delight at the Home Office announcement. He says the organisation will strive to ensure the Migration Advisory Committee receives ‘robust evidence to enable nursing to remain on the list of shortage occupations’.

See reflections page 24

‘Hundreds of Indian nurses can soon join the workforce’

Allowing more nurses in from abroad will affect companies that offer overseas recruitment services.

India International Healthcare Recruiters is one of India’s largest providers of healthcare professionals, sending recruits to Europe, North America, Africa, Australia and Asia.

The company’s managing partner Gurinder Singh says that before the shortage occupation list announcement, Indian nurses were reluctant to apply for jobs in the UK as they would need to be earning £35,000 or more after six years..’

He explains that the agency has five or six UK employers asking for around 100 nurses each.

He adds: ‘We do get more requests from the UK in the run up to winter but the process is long – interviews by the trusts, the international English language testing system, computer-based testing exam, the NMC process, certificates of sponsorship, hospital bookings and so on.

‘Adding nursing to the shortage occupation list will now enable hundreds of Indian nurses to deploy with the NHS trusts that selected them earlier this year. We hope to send around 150 to 200 nurses by February 15 next year.’

The NMC is prepared for an increase in applications

Nurses and midwives who were trained outside the European Economic Area and who want to practise in the UK must go through a two-part competence process before they can join the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

Computer-based multiple-choice examination that can be accessed by applicants in their home countries.

Practical, observed and structured clinical examination, which is held in the UK.

In addition, the NMC has specific language, practice, registration and education requirements.

NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith says the nurse regulator understands that placing nursing on the shortage occupation list might prompt a significant increase in overseas-trained nurses wanting to join the NMC register.

But she is confident the NMC has the resources and capacity to process an increased volume of applications over the coming months.

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