Labour calls for health professionals’ exemption from immigration caps

NHS doctors at St Ann's Hospital in London strike in 2016
Dinendra Haria/REX/Shutterstock

Labour has urged home secretary Sajid Javid to exempt all health professionals from the immigration cap on skilled workers in order to alleviate the pressure on the NHS.

In a letter to Javid, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth warned that the refusal to grant visas to 400 doctors since December showed that the Government’s “hostile environment policy is now directly damaging NHS patient care”.

According to the Guardian, the letter said: “Senior medical practitioners from overseas who have been appointed to fill key roles in hospitals around the UK are being blocked from taking up their jobs, leaving NHS patients without care.

“The visa rules clearly aren’t working in the best interests of NHS patients. I am asking that you put patient safety first by taking NHS workers out of the tier 2 visa system so that hospitals can get the right numbers of staff in place.”

It followed a letter that was sent by 35 NHS trusts to former home secretary Amber Rudd last week, which claimed the doctors that were refused a visa were part of a self-funded post graduate course that specifically aimed to attract overseas doctors to work in the NHS.

The doctors were denied visas because immigration caps for skilled workers, under the tier 2 system, had been reached for five consecutive months. The cap was last met in June 2015.

The annual cap for accepting migrant workers under the tier 2 system is 20,700, with varying monthly limits. If the monthly or annual cap is exceeded, workers are refused a visa unless they are in a shortage occupation category.

Specialist doctors and NHS nurses are on the shortage occupation list, but doctors with broader specialisms are not.

According to the Evening Standard, prime minister Theresa May has overruled Cabinet ministers’ pleas to relax visa rules to allow more doctors from overseas to fill vacant NHS posts.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association, said the visa cap was “inexplicable”.

“Given that the Government has recognised the importance of a long-term solution to address the current workforce crisis in the NHS, the suggestion that the prime minister has blocked requests that would enable overseas doctors to practise in the NHS is deeply concerning,” he said.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts in England, suggested that exempting medical staff from the visa restrictions was an “obvious solution” to the NHS staffing crisis.

“Trusts have now hit the frustrating problem of not being able to get visas for staff they have recruited. This is forcing those trusts to employ more expensive temporary staff and risk losing qualified, experienced staff that the NHS needs,” he claimed.

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