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Overseas nurses: public wants relaxation of visa rules

Extent of NHS nursing shortage means foreign doctors are missing out on visas

Extent of NHS nursing shortage means foreign doctors are missing out on visas


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Most British people believe the number of foreign health professionals allowed into the UK to fill NHS vacancies should be not be limited by immigration targets, a poll found.

Campaign group 38 Degrees claims only 14% are in favour of the government's policy of blocking visa applications from non-EU citizens once an annual limit of 20,7000 is reached. In contrast, 75% felt the need to fill NHS vacancies should override immigration restrictions.

And the British Medical Association (BMA) has written to the Home Secretary to complain that some overseas doctors are losing out on visas because they are given lower priority than nurses.

Government is 'out of step'

38 Degrees commissioned a survey of 1,615 British adults about their views on immigration policy. Significantly, less than a quarter (23%) of those who voted to leave the European Union and just one in five who voted Conservative in last year’s general election (21%) agreed with government policy.

38 Degrees campaigns manager Trish Murray said: ‘The government’s approach to the staffing crisis in the NHS is wildly out of step with the public.

‘The overwhelming majority of people – whether they vote Conservative or Labour, Leave or Remain, live in London or Leeds – want skilled doctors and nurses to be able to come here to work when there are shortages to fill. The public want doctors and nurses, not red tape and made-up targets.’

‘The demand for nurses from overseas means there are not enough restricted certificates of sponsorship for other professionals, including doctors and pharmacists’

Chaand Nagpaul, BMA

The government gives nurses priority for skilled work visas because the profession is on the UK’s official shortage occupation list. Other professions, including GPs, have lower priority.

The BMA raised the issue in a letter to home secretary Sajid Javid in which it said doctors and other health professionals are being refused entry to the UK.

A Freedom of Information request to the Home Office by the Campaign for Science and Engineering showed 6,080 prospective immigrants were refused skilled work visas between December 2017 and March this year. Of these, 1,518 were doctors and 361 were other healthcare professionals.

In his letter, BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul wrote: ‘The demand for nurses from overseas means there are not enough restricted certificates of sponsorship for other professionals, including doctors and pharmacists.’

He asked that shortage occupations be handled separately from the restricted certificate of sponsorship allocation process.

Dr Nagpaul added: “At a time when the NHS is under enormous strain and struggling to fill positions, the current visa restrictions and arbitrary caps for non-EU workers entering the UK are inexplicable and threatening patient care and safety.’


Further information:

Read the BMA's letter to Sajid Javid here


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