Today (22nd June 2015), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has released new research revealing that changes to immigration rules will risk intensifying the severe shortage of nurses in the UK, compromising patient safety, as well as costing the health service millions.
Changes to immigration rulesUnder the new rules, people from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) must be earning £35,000 or more before they are allowed to stay in the UK after six years. These rules will force many nurses to return to their home countries, leaving hospitals with nothing to show for the millions of pounds spent on recruiting them. The effects of the new rules will start being felt in 2017.
Cost to the NHSThe RCN has calculated that up to 3365 nurses currently working in the UK will potentially be affected and estimates that it will have cost the NHS £20.19million to recruit them - money which will have been wasted if they are forced to leave the UK.
The figures for future years are even more worrying, particularly if overseas recruitment continues to rise as a result of a shortage of home-grown nurses and a crackdown on agency nurse spending.
If international recruitment stays the same as it is now, by 2020 the number of nurses affected by the threshold will be 6,620, employed at a cost of £39.7million. If workforce pressures force a higher rate of international recruitment, the number of nurses affected could be 29,755, costing over £178.5million to recruit.
Government must take urgent stepsSpending vast amounts of money on recruiting overseas nurses who will only be in the health system for a short period of time is a waste of valuable NHS time and resources. While Trusts are forced into relying on international recruitment to make up staffing numbers, the RCN calls on the Government to add nursing to the list of shortage occupations and to reconsider the £35k salary threshold.
The Government must take urgent steps to increase the number of UK nurse training places. This will reduce the over reliance on overseas recruitment in the longer term.
Immigration rules will cause chaos for NHSDr Peter Carter, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the RCN said: "Due to cuts to nurse training places, trusts are being forced into relying on overseas recruitment, as well as temporary staff, just to provide safe staffing. A cap on agency spending will make one of these options more difficult, and these immigration rules will limit the other.
"The immigration rules for health care workers will cause chaos for the NHS and other care services. At a time when demand is increasing, the UK is perversely making it harder to employ staff from overseas. The NHS has spent millions hiring nurses from overseas in order to provide safe staffing levels. These rules will mean that money has just been thrown down the drain."
Completely illogicalDr Carter continued: "The UK will be sending away nurses who have contributed to the health service for six years. Losing their skills and knowledge and then having to start the cycle again and recruit to replace them is completely illogical. NHS trusts are being asked to provide safe staffing with both hands tied behind their backs. Without a change to these immigration rules the NHS will continue to pay millions of pounds to temporarily rent nurses from overseas."
Train more nursesDr Carter concluded: "The only way for the UK to regain control over its own health service workforce is by training more nurses. 37,000 potential nursing students were turned away last year so there are people out there who want to embark on a nursing career. There are clear signs of a global nursing shortage, meaning an ongoing reliance on overseas recruitment is not just unreliable but unsustainable. Unless we expand training and have enough nurses in this country, we will also be at the mercy of global trends which we can't control.
"The UK has always benefited from attracting some of the worldís most talented and caring nurses, and overseas nurses will continue to play a vital role in our health services. But an over reliance on their recruitment is not in anyone's best long term interests."
View the RCN report, International Recruitment 2015 here