Inflexible visa process 'stops much-needed doctors working in NHS'

Doctors are being prevented from joining the NHS workforce by 'unnecessary barriers and delays' to visa applications and renewals, the BMA has warned.

Visa process delayed (Photo: iStock)
Visa process delayed (Photo: iStock)

In a letter to home secretary Amber Rudd, BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul warned that the current system for processing visa applications was 'too rigid to adequately promote the recruitment of much needed specialties to the UK, particularly those which help address NHS workforce shortages'.

The letter came just a day after the BMA chair hit out at the home office over a bid to deport a doctor who is just five months short of qualifying as a GP. After 10 years studying and working in the UK Dr Luke Ong faces deportation because his visa hearing came after a renewal deadline.

The NHS lost 1,300 full-time equivalent GPs between September 2015 and September 2017, figures reported last year by GPonline show.

In a letter calling on the Home Office to revisit its decision to appeal against an immigration judge's earlier decision that Dr Ong should be allowed to remain in the UK, the BMA chair set out a list of demands for greater flexibility around visas to help the NHS recruit doctors.

Shortage of doctors

'There is currently an unprecedented shortage of doctors across the NHS and as such the
immigration system should reflect much needed flexibility and greater recognition of the crucial
role which international doctors play in meeting the health needs of the country,' Dr Nagpaul wrote.

The letter calls for 'clear information and advice' on the timelines for visa applications to be made available for international doctors. It calls for a flexible approach when a 'procedural factor' such as an administrative delay is the primary reason for a visa application being rejected, and for a re-think on when the Home Office appeals against positive visa applications - to ensure that decisions are 'in the interests of the wider society'.

Dr Ong has launched an online petition against the move to deport him, which has now been signed by more than 55,000 people.

A Home Office spokesman said earlier this week: 'All visa applications are considered in line with immigration rules and on the evidence provided.

'Dr Ong’s case is currently under appeal and it would be inappropriate to comment further while legal proceedings are ongoing.'

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