The head of NHS England has thrown his hat into the immigration debate, encouraging the government to reconsider its policy toward nurses.
New proposals from the government will see lower paid nurses from outside the EU deported.
But Simon Stevens acknowledged the rather well-publicised fact that the nursing profession faces a shortage of qualified employees at present.
Naturally nursing is absolutely critical to the everyday functioning of the NHS, and leaving the health service short of nurses is tantamount to handcuffing it.
Stevens is merely the latest high profile source to offer a negative opinion of government policy.
The deportation approach has already been criticised by employers’ groups and the nurses’ union, both of which consider it to be a disastrous piece of legislation.
It is already projected by some experts that the policy could ultimately cost millions in recruitment, in addition to the staffing difficulties that it could create.
Both of these groups have already urged the Home Office to add nurses to the list of shortage occupations, effectively exempting them from the new legislation.
Additionally, it has been suggested that the £35,000 salary threshold is far too low, and that this should be reconsidered for the nursing profession.
Under existing rules, workers from outside the European Economic Area who are earning less than £35,000 after six years in the UK will be deported.
Most experts seemingly agree that this will lead to organisational difficulties, if not outright chaos.
Meanwhile, speaking at the Institute of Directors annual convention in London, the NHS England chief executive became the most prominent healthcare figure in the UK to offer a forthright opinion on the subject.
“Understandably we’re having a national discussion about how to get immigration right. My responsibility is to point out that, at time when the need for nurses is growing, when publicly funded UK nurse training places will take several years to expand, and when agency staff costs are driving hospital overspends right now, we need to better join up the dots on immigration policy and the NHS,” Stevens stated.
The Chief Executive also compared nursing to ballet dancing, calling into question the logic and rationality of the existing legislation.
“Most nurses I speak to struggle to understand why our immigration rules define ballet dancers as a shortage occupation but not nursing. However, most nurses I speak to struggle to understand why our immigration rules define ballet dancers as a shortage occupation but not nursing. And most hospitals tell me the idea that we would seriously consider deporting some of our most experienced and committed nurses solely because they’re not earning £35,000 clearly needs a rethink,” Stevens commented.
Stevens is just the latest individual to criticise the government policy.
The Royal College of Nursing has already estimated that in the region of 3,500 nurses could be affected by the legislation.
This could effectively cost the NHS over £20 million in recruitment alone, with the ultimate financial and organisational cost considerably higher.
And the union claims that the figure will rise to in the region of 30,000 nurses by the end of the decade, should workforce pressures lead to increased international recruitment.
This mammoth number would require in the region of £180 million to recruit replacements alone.