I welcome the recent announcement by the Government that it will remove the immigration cap on foreign doctors and nurses. I have consistently questioned the logic of turning away qualified medical professionals from working in our NHS at a time when it is struggling to fill almost 100,000 vacancies.
Despite the brilliant efforts of NHS staff who work tirelessly in the face of increasing pressures, years of pay restraint and a failure to invest in and plan properly for the workforce has resulted in vacancies for 35,000 nursing vacancies and 10,000 doctor vacancies. The Government has also abolished bursaries for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals resulting in the number of applications for nursing courses falling by over 15,000.
Our health service has always relied on the contribution of overseas workers. Yet the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ approach to immigration policy has failed patients as the NHS has been unable to recruit more doctors and nurses from overseas. The NHS must be able to hire the staff it needs from abroad to provide safe levels of care and I believe Ministers should be doing more to ensure that hospitals can get the right numbers of staff in place.
I pay tribute to the British Medical Association (BMA), NHS Employers and medical royal colleges for pressing the Home Secretary to urgently review the Tier-2 visa cap. The BMA has consistently expressed its concerns that, at a time when the NHS is struggling to fill vacancies, visa restrictions and caps for non-EU workers are preventing overseas doctors from caring for patients.
The visa rules have not worked in the best interests of NHS patients. I will press the Government to put patient safety first and ensure that NHS trusts are able to recruit the doctors and nurses it needs.