Responding to questions from the health and social care committee in parliament yesterday, Mr Hancock said that the government had ‘no intention’ of reintroducing restrictions on the number of doctors and nurses entering NHS employment through the tier 2 visa route.
His words came in response to committee chair and former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, who said she understood the ‘very welcome’ removal of the visa cap for foreign doctors and nurses, which was announced in June, to be ‘time limited’.
Mr Hancock replied: ‘No, it’s not.’
Tier 2 visa cap
There was speculation last week that health workers’ exemption from the visa cap could face 'abrupt reversal' after newly-published correspondence between the home secretary Sajid Javid and the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) revealed the ‘temporary’ decision to be under review.
This led campaign group The Doctors' Association UK (DAUK) to write to the home secretary highlighting the ‘destructive effect’ on the NHS that a reinstatement of the cap could have.
However, Mr Hancock reassured the committee that these concerns were unfounded. He said: ‘The Home Office answered a question in the standard way they do in that all visa arrangements are kept under review. That was interpreted to mean that this was a temporary scheme. We have no intention of changing it.’
Mr Hancock was giving evidence to the health and social care committee about the impact that the UK’s departure from the EU could have on the NHS.
On the subject of immigration, Mr Hancock said he did not have a ‘specific estimate’ of the visa costs involved in employing doctors and nurses from the EU post-Brexit.
He said: ‘Visa costs haven’t been set and the immigration policy white paper hasn’t yet been agreed, but it is something that I’m working closely with the home office on.’
He added: ‘Our proposal is that we’re going to have a global skill-based immigration system. We currently have an uncapped system for attracting doctors and nurses from the rest of the world outside the EEA currently which I think is great and I want to see the brightest and the best doctors and nurses around the world continuing to come to the UK as they do now.’
Research published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine earlier this month suggested that post-Brexit immigration restrictions could result in an NHS 'staffing crisis' - affecting the quality of both healthcare provision and research in the UK.