Fears for NHS as foreign nurses forced to leave UK

David Cameron visits a London hospital last month. He is under intense pressure to cut immigration. Picture: Getty
David Cameron visits a London hospital last month. He is under intense pressure to cut immigration. Picture: Getty
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PLANS to force immigrants to quit the UK after six years if they are not earning £35,000 or more will put lives at risk and cost the NHS millions of pounds, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has warned.

The proposal, which is due to come into effect in 2016 and was signed off by the coalition government just before the election, is one of the measures being introduced by Prime Minister David Cameron to try to stem the flow of immigrants into the UK aimed at people from outside the European Economic Area.

“This means money will be thrown down the drain”

Peter Carter, RCN chief executive

It came after Mr Cameron’s pledge to bring down the level of migration to fewer than 100,000 in the last parliament failed and instead the number of people entering the country increased.

The row is the latest to hit the government after a plan to force foreign students to leave the country after they graduated was condemned by business, universities and the Scottish Government.

In its submission, the RCN warned that by insisting migrants need to earn £35,000 or more after six years in the UK –when they would begin to qualify for benefits – a severe shortage of nurses in the UK will intensify and leave hospitals with nothing to show for millions of pounds spent on recruiting them.

The RCN has calculated that up to 3,365 nurses currently working in the UK will potentially be affected, who will have cost the NHS £20.19 million in recruiting them.

It added that 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 £39.7 million.

Currently, the average salary of a nurse is just £22,848 which means most of those from outside Europe will be affected by the new measure. And, as a result, the RCN claims that if workforce pressures force a higher turnover of international recruitment, the number of nurses affected could be 29,755, costing more than £178.5 million to recruit.

The RCN is calling on the government to reconsider the £35,000 salary threshold, add nurses to the list of occupations where there is a shortage, and increase the number of UK nurse training places to reduce the over-reliance on overseas recruitment in the long term.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “The immigration rules for healthcare 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.

“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.”

However, a Home Office spokesman said: “We changed the settlement rules in 2011 to break the link between coming to work in the UK and staying here permanently.

“There are exemptions to this threshold for occupations where the UK has a shortage, but the independent Migration Advisory Committee recommended against adding nurses to the Shortage Occupation List after taking evidence from groups including the Royal College of Nursing.”

Joanna Cherry MP, the SNP’s Justice and Home Affairs spokesperson, said: “This economically illiterate position from the Tory government at Westminster could seriously damage the NHS and needs reversed immediately.

“It reinforces the need to have immigration powers in the Scottish Parliament – enabling Scotland to make decisions to protect the NHS and all our public services.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Immigration is a reserved matter, and Scotland must comply with the UK Government on all immigration rules.”