Release valve offered for nurse staffing levels

The Government has announced that applications from nurses from non-EU countries will be prioritised and immigration controls relaxed with immediate effect. Nursing has been added to the Shortage Occupation List which is the list of professions that effectively removes the limit of numbers that can be employed as long as they have the backing from a UK employer.

This action has been taken to combat the shortage of nurses across the UK and appeal to international nurses to apply without fear of rejection from the UK’s immigration system. There are a limited number of visas that are available each year and this move will see non-EU nurses pushed to the top of the list to fill the void in health and social care settings.

The move also aims indirectly to reduce the over-reliance of the NHS and consequently the private healthcare sector on high costing agency staff. If the visas are granted to nurses then it is hoped that they would be on contracts which would be more cost-effective.

Theresa May chose to take this step with immediate effect and has asked the Migration Advisory Committee to consider whether this step should have permanent effect. The Home Secretary has requested a review of this decision by 15 February 2016 where the measure may be cancelled, amended or extended.

Commenting on the action, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said “Safe staffing across all our hospitals and care homes is a crucial priority. The temporary changes announced today will ensure the NHS has the nurses it needs to deliver the highest standards of care without having to rely on rip-off staffing agencies that cost the taxpayer billions of pounds a year.”

The Government had previously planned to remove the visas from non-EU nurses who had been working in the UK for 6 years but did not yet earn £35,000 effectively expelling them from the UK. This policy has since been scrapped owing to a change in political will which is in response in part to the nursing crisis that has beset the UK.

The Care sector remains highly important to the wellbeing of the nation and a shortage of nurses can of course impact on the quality of care offered across the UK. These new steps are designed to assist hospitals and care homes in relation to the numbers of staff available at each institution; the jury will still be out in relation to the quality of those additional staff recruited.

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