Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, has asked the Home Office to reconsider its decision to omit nursing from the shortage occupation list.
Mr Stevens, speaking at the Institute of Directors annual conference, said that as the need for nurses rises, immigration policy must reflect demand, as it will take several years for training programmes to fill the gaps in the workforce. He added that the health service was at risk of losing some of its most skilled and experienced nurses due to the rules, something which requires a ‘rethink’.
Adding nurses to the list would make them exempt from new immigration rules, which would see nurses earning under £35,000 after six years in the UK having to return to their country of origin.
He said: ‘Most nurses I speak to struggle to understand why our immigration rules define ballet dancers as a shortage occupation but not nursing.’
Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN, said: ‘Since the RCN first raised these concerns, there is now a consensus across the health service that the Home Office must make a change. It is an irrefutable fact that rising demand for health care, a shortage of home grown nurses, and new rules limiting the use of agency staff mean the NHS is reliant on overseas recruitment to provide safe patient care.’
The RCN has predicted that the change to immigration rules could see the health service lose 3365 nurses, costing the NHS as much as £20.19 million. This figure could rise to 6,620 by 2020, at a cost of £39.7million, if international recruitment rates stay the same. However, if workforce pressures force a higher rate of international recruitment, the number of nurses affected could be 29,755 in 2020, costing over £178.5 million to recruit.
Ms Davies added: ‘It is illogical for nursing not to be considered a shortage occupation when there is understaffing on wards and in care homes across the country. Health care providers are telling the government that they need these rules to change if they are to provide safe care. Ignoring this issue any longer would be irresponsible, illogical and bad for patients.’
The NHS Employers has written to the Home Office Migration Advisory Committee and to home secretary Theresea May to add nurses to the shortage occupation list. 'We know there are plans to train more nurses in the UK but it takes four years to deliver the training so we will not see the benefit until 2017. We need to ensure that there is sufficient staffing to deliver good patient care in hospitals across the country,' said Danny Mortimer, the chief executive of NHS Employers.