The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has recommended that nursing continue to be placed on the Shortage Occupation List.
There had been fears that nursing would not remain a shortage occupation, which would mean that non-European Economic Area nurses earning under £35,000 after five years in the UK would be deported. Nursing bodies claimed that this would lead to a major reduction in the nursing workforce, as very few nurses earn £35,000 a year. The decision has been welcomed by nursing bodies such as the RCN.
‘This is a positive and forward-thinking recommendation that will benefit patients, staff and the health service. It also lays bare the short term decisions and failure to plan for the long term which have led to this position,’ said Donna Kinnair, director of nursing, policy and practice at the RCN. ‘The Committee has echoed our view that this situation must be avoided in the future through better workforce planning, while recognising that these nurses are needed for the coming months and years.’
In its report, the MAC said it had made the recommendation ‘reluctantly’ and criticised the health sector, saying that the current shortage of nurses is mostly down to factors which ‘could, and should’ have been anticipated. The body stated that its decision was made due to there being no alternate short term solution to the pressures on the nursing workforce.
‘We have reluctantly made this recommendation. However, there is no good reason why the supply of nurses cannot be sourced domestically. There seems to be an automatic presumption that non-EEA skilled migration provides the health and care sector with a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card,’ said Sir David Metcalf, chair of the MAC. 'The long term solution to addressing this shortage is recruiting and retaining staff by providing sufficient incentive and opportunity.’
The MAC also said that, on average, migrant nurses are being paid £6000 less than equivalent UK workers. In its review, the Committee found evidence suggesting employers are using non-EEA nurses to save money rather than address the shortage through other means. It also criticised the decision to cut training places in England by almost a fifth between 2009 and 2013, as well as ongoing pay restraint for nurses, which may have incentivised healthcare employers to recruit migrant nurses at lower cost.
‘Overseas nursing staff make up an invaluable part of our health and social care workforce. This recommendation acknowledges their vital contribution and the need to address staffing levels now. It’s something RCN members care strongly about and have been campaigning on for some time,’ added Ms Kinnair. ‘It’s essential that the UK is able to train and retain enough of its own nurses, which means ensuring that there are enough training places, and that nursing receives the pay, recognition and respect that it deserves to attract people to the profession.’