Health ministers and NHS bosses have been criticised for using overseas nurses as an easy method of easing hospitals’ recruitment crisis.
The government’s migration advisory committee (MAC) stated that it has reluctantly recommended for up to 15,000 overseas nurses from outside of the European economic area (EEA) to be handed visas over a three-year period.
But Prof David Metcalf, the MAC chairman, believe that there is “no good reason why the supply of nurses cannot be sourced domestically. There seems to be an automatic presumption that non-EEA migration provides the health and care sector with a ‘get out of jail free’ card.”
Metcalf is critical of the Department of Health, suggesting that it should have anticipated the recruitment crisis in nursing well ahead of its eventuality.
Indeed, the professor suggests that the evident shortage of nurses in the health system can be correlated directly with the decision to reduce training places in England by around 20% back in 2009.
The MAC also cites past evidence that some hospital trusts are paying migrant nurses £6,000 less than UK nurses and are using them to save money rather than address the shortage in other ways.
Critics of the system, along with migration experts, believe that employers should instead go through the resident labour market test in order to ensure that concerns about undercutting are answered.
Nurses were added to the official list of shortage occupations last October as a temporary measure to help them through the winter crisis subject to a review by the MAC.
In particular, there is a 20,700-a-year overall cap on the recruitment of skilled overseas workers from outside Europe.
Yet based on existing figures, the government has been informed that a recruitment of 14,000 nurses from overseas is essential over the next four years.
It is believed that the deluge of work permits for nurses could effectively eliminate skilled migrants from other occupations such as engineering, which are arguably equally necessary.
Commenting on the issue, the aforementioned Metcalf suggested that massive mistakes have been made in government, and that the situation must be addressed as soon as possible.
“The Department of Health should get its act together … You never know who is in charge in the Department of Health,” added Metcalf. “We had evidence from so many different bodies … There is no single authoritative voice to speak for them.”
In response to the words of Metcalf, the Royal College of Nursing told the migration experts that London hospital trusts were running with 17% nurse vacancies but that vacancy rates were lower outside the capital.
Over 20% of the 630,000 nurses working in Britain hail from overseas.