NHS free to recruit unlimited number of overseas doctors under Home Office visa reform

Doctors and nurses will be excluded from the government's cap on tier 2 visas under legislation to be presented in parliament on Friday, opening the door to unlimited NHS recruitment from overseas.

Home secretary Sajid Javed
Home secretary Sajid Javed

The Home Office confirmed the widely-anticipated move on Thursday hours after the BMA and RCGP said that if it went ahead it would represent a 'victory' for the NHS workforce.

A government statement said the overhaul of visa rules was part of its long-term plan for the NHS, promising that more details of the health service proposals would be unveiled 'in due course'.

The existing annual cap of 20,700 tier 2 visas will remain in place, but will no longer apply to doctors and nurses, meaning there will be 'no restriction on the numbers of doctors and nurses who can be employed through the tier 2 visa route', the Home Office confirmed.

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Officials admitted that numbers of applications for tier 2 visas had exceeded available places in recent months and that this had been largely driven by demand from the NHS. Around two in five tier 2 visa places are accounted for by applicants who intend to work in the health service.

Ministers will lay new immigration rules before parliament on Friday setting out the changes.

Home secretary Sajid Javid said: 'I recognise the pressures faced by the NHS and other sectors in recent months. Doctors and nurses play a vital role in society and at this time we need more in the UK. That is why I have reviewed our skilled worker visa route.

'This is about finding a solution to increased demand and to support our essential national services.'

GP recruitment

Efforts to recruit GPs from outside the UK since the GP Forward View was published in 2016 have been slow-moving, with just 58 doctors currently signed up to the international GP recruitment scheme - the first of which could start work from September.

Overall GP numbers remain in decline, with a 4% drop in the full-time equivalent workforce in the past two years - and record numbers of GPs planning to quit according to a recent survey.

However, Health Education England announced today that record numbers of GP trainees had been recruited in the first round of applications for 2018 training posts.

Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt said: 'Overseas staff have been a vital part of our NHS since its creation 70 years ago. Today’s news sends a clear message to nurses and doctors from around the world that the NHS welcomes and values their skills and dedication. It’s fantastic that patients will now benefit from the care of thousands more talented staff.

'This builds on steps we have already taken to make sure the NHS has the staff it needs for the future – boosting training places for home-grown doctors and nurses by 25% and giving over 1m NHS employees a well-deserved pay rise.'

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