The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), which represents many recruitment organisations within the UK, has welcomed this month’s announcement that NHS doctors and nurses will be excluded from restrictions to the number of visas granted to skilled non-EU migrant workers.

The number of Tier 2 visas offered to skilled workers outside the EEA and Switzerland is currently limited to 20,700 people a year. According to data obtained by the Financial Times, 2,630 of 3,599 Tier 2 visa applications submitted by non-EU doctors were refused in the five-months to April 2018, despite crippling staff shortages across the NHS.

APSCo’s 2018 Market Survey found that 26% of healthcare recruiters are currently experiencing skills shortages, with 87% of those recruiting highly skilled workers expecting access to talent to worsen in the next two years.

Commenting on the announcement, Samantha Hurley, Director of Operations at APSCo, said:

“It’s no secret that Britain has been built on skilled talent from overseas and the decision to remove doctors and nurses from the UK’s restrictive visa regime is an entirely sensible one.
“Our members have long reported that finding healthcare professionals to work within the NHS is becoming increasingly difficult, and with Brexit on the horizon many foresee the situation worsening.

“This move should also help to marginally ease talent shortages elsewhere, with visas currently issued to doctors, nurses and other health professionals each year becoming available to other sectors. However, it is our view that immigration policy may have to be reviewed more widely if we are to retain access to the volume of skilled professionals the UK economy needs after we leave the EU.”

Recruiters responded positively to the news.

Michael Johnson-Ellis, Managing Director at Healthier Recruitment, said the decision was necessary:

“It is unfathomable that NHS Trusts are desperately crying out for permanent specialist staff while healthcare professionals who are qualified and willing to fill open vacancies are being told they are not welcome.

“As an organisation which is on the front line of recruitment into the NHS, we understand the challenges that many Trusts are facing to recruit the skills they need to give patients the service they deserve and maintain patient safety.

“While there is, of course, a place for agency staff, for too long all gaps have been habitually filled by temporary workers to the detriment of continuity of care. And, with the NMC register recording a significant fall in the number of EU nurses since the referendum, something most definitely had to give.”

Philip Braham, co-founder of specialist doctor recruiters Remedium Partners said they were ‘delighted’ by the announcement:

“We are hopeful that this decision will go a long way towards removing the NHS’s reliance on expensive agency locum doctors as a short-term solution to staffing gaps.

“Given that a single locum can cost as much as £100,000 in agency fees alone, the NHS not only stands to save significant amounts of money long term, but it will be better placed to provide patients with continuity of care due to a much larger pool of permanent doctors.

“While today’s decision marks an exciting period of transformation for the NHS, Trusts will need to focus on strategic workforce planning strategies that not only attract overseas doctors to work in their hospitals, but also retain them on a long term basis. Support with relocation, the development of robust induction programmes and access to ongoing professional development will be crucial to the success of Trusts’ long term attraction and retention strategies.”