The NHS across the UK should no longer recruit junior nurses from abroad, the government has announced.
General nursing is being taken off the Home Office ‘shortage occupation’ list, although there has been no official Home Office announcement confirming this.
Ministers said the expanded training programme and better conditions mean the supply of nurses is now healthy, and the manpower shortage has eased.
However, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) attacked the move, warning it would be impossible to replace retiring nurses with home-grown talent alone.
It accused the government of making international nurses a scapegoat for the current financial crisis in the NHS, which has seen thousands of posts cut in recent months.
Removing general nurses from the shortage occupation list, means employers will need to advertise any vacancies first and only if they are unable to fill the post can they turn to international recruitment.
This change will apply to nursing posts graded at Agenda for Change bands five and six.
Training and Recruitment
Health Minister Lord Warner said the government had invested heavily in nurse training and recruitment policies, resulting in 82,000 more nurses working in the NHS than when the government came to power in 1997 – and record numbers in training.
He said: “We are now moving away from year-on-year growth in the NHS workforce to more of a steady state where there is a closer match between demand and supply.
“Large-scale international nurse recruitment across the NHS was only ever intended to be a short-term measure.
“The aim of the NHS has always been to look towards home-grown staff in the first instance and have a diverse workforce that reflects local communities.
“Therefore to ensure that UK resident and newly trained nurses are given every opportunity to continue their career in the UK and to secure the future workforce of the NHS, we are today taking Agenda for Change band five and six nurses off the shortage list.”
“150,000 nurses are due to retire in the next five to 10 years and we will not replace them all with home grown nurses alone” Dr Beverly Malone
Dr Beverly Malone, RCN general secretary, said: “International nurses have always been there for the UK in times of need, and it beggars belief that they are now being made scapegoats for the current deficits crisis.
“Removing nursing from the list of recognised shortage professions is short-termism in the worst possible sense.
“We know that the vast majority of international nurses are employed in bands five and six, the very bands which are going to be affected.
“If this proposal goes ahead, I guarantee that the effects will be far-reaching and immediate.
“Over 150,000 nurses are due to retire in the next five to 10 years and we will not replace them all with home-grown nurses alone.”
Shadow Health Minister Andrew Murrison accused the government of a “short-sighted” move.
He said: “Demographic changes over the next ten years mean that there will be a continuing need for the ethical recruitment of healthcare professionals from abroad, including nurses.
“This move is presumably designed to save the government’s blushes as hospitals cut jobs and freeze nursing posts in a desperate attempt to resolve deficits.”
Taking nurses off the shortage occupations list will hit the private sector making it far more difficult to obtain work permits for foreign nurses. Care homes in many parts of the country still find it difficult to recruit staff locally.
Existing overseas nurses will find it harder to renew or extend their work permits and could even end up having to leave the UK.
In April 2006, the government increased the length of time to qualify for residency from four to five years (see www.immigrationmatters.co.uk – archives). Many nurses are now going to be caught in the net while trying to extend their work permits and may never reach five years.
This is yet another blow for the thousands of overseas nurses who are building new lives in the UK and could now be discarded as ‘surplus to requirements’.
Under the new points-based system being introduced over the next two years, nurses will no longer automatically qualify for a work permit and will have to meet other stringent criteria.