GP leaders hail 'victory' as home secretary to relax visa cap on doctors

GP leaders have welcomed plans to relax immigration rules as a 'victory' for the NHS, with the home secretary expected to say that an existing cap on tier 2 visas will no longer apply to doctors and nurses.

Visa rules to be relaxed for doctors (Photo: iStock.com/BanarTABS)
Visa rules to be relaxed for doctors (Photo: iStock.com/BanarTABS)

The announcement comes just a week after the RCGP urged home secretary Sajid Javid to relax immigration rules ‘for appropriately trained doctors who want to work as GPs in the UK’, warning that a failure to do so would make the government’s target of recruiting 5,000 more GPs by 2020 ‘increasingly difficult to achieve’. The BMA also wrote to Mr Javid in his first week in post to demand a rethink on the cap.

The tier 2 visa cap currently sets a limit for all non-EU skilled workers at 20,700 people a year - a limit that has prevented much-needed doctors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) from joining the NHS at a time of extreme pressure.

Expectations that the visa cap will be relaxed come as GPonline reported that just 58 doctors have been recruited to the international GP recruitment scheme to date - 3% of the 2,000 doctors NHS England has promised it will deliver by 2020.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Lifting the cap on tier 2 visas for doctors and nurses wanting to work in the NHS would be a fantastic and much-needed victory for common sense and patient care, and something that the college, along with organisations across medicine, has been pushing hard for.

GP shortage

‘We are currently desperately short of GPs in the UK. Our workload is escalating both in terms of volume and complexity, yet despite the Government’s pledge for 5,000 more family doctors by 2020, the number of GPs working in the NHS in England is actually falling.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul described the decision as a ‘welcome relief to doctors and patients’, saying it ‘would represent a huge victory for common sense and for the BMA’.

‘Overseas doctors make an invaluable contribution to our health service, and at a time when there are thousands of unfilled vacancies within the NHS, it is absurd that the government should stop experienced and talented healthcare professionals coming to work here and provide much-needed care for patients,’ he added.

Regardless of the visa cap, professor Stokes-Lampard said that there remain ‘significant barriers’ when it comes to employing doctors from overseas, including ‘arduous red tape and significant costs standing in the way of GP practices obtaining the necessary licence to do this’.

The RCGP also renewed their calls for GPs to be added to the shortage occupation list.

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