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Medical leaders call on PM to relax visas restrictions for overseas doctors

Doctors’ representatives have written to the government urging them to relax visas restrictions for overseas doctors.

It follows reports that the Prime Minister has ignored requests from cabinet colleagues to relax visa rules to allow hundreds of skilled doctors from overseas to work in NHS hospitals.

The NHS is suffering significant shortages in the medical workforce.

RCP president Professor Jane Dacre has written to the Prime Minister today, asking for clarification of the reason behind the veto on the relaxation of rules allowing overseas doctors to work in the NHS, and recommends excluding applications for shortage occupations from the tier 2 allocation process to help ease pressure on the NHS.

In her letter, Professor Dacre writes: “I am writing to you on behalf of the Royal College of Physicians to express concern about a recent report in the Evening Standard stating that calls for a relaxation of visa rules to allow overseas doctors to work in the NHS were vetoed.

“I would greatly welcome clarification of the reasoning behind this decision, particularly given the need for more doctors to ensure safe staffing levels for patient care.”

She recommends keeping the current cap on restricted certificates of sponsorship for the short-term and excluding applications for shortage occupation roles from the tier 2 allocation process.

Excluding shortage occupation applications will help ease pressure in the system now, and support recruitment across the health professions to meet patient need whilst the UK navigates through a complex Brexit negotiation, the RCP says.

She also calls for the expansion of the Medical Training Initiative (MTI): the MTI offers junior doctors from Department for International Development priority countries and World Bank Low Income and Lower Middle Income Countries the opportunity to come to the UK.

They work and train here before returning to their home country after two years. It is a mutually beneficial scheme; supporting the development of global healthcare services and helping trusts fill rota gaps.

The RCP says its success means it is constantly oversubscribed, with candidates being held on a waiting list. Dacre calls for consideration of a phased increase in the current cap from 1,000 to 2,000 places.

The BMA and other colleges have written to the Home Secretary also asking for the cap to be reviewed.

In a letter to Sajid Javid, the BMA’s chair of council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, and the other signatories, stress that the Tier-2 visa quota has been unprecedently reached for the fifth month in a row and is preventing willing and available overseas doctors from providing vital patient services in an overstretched NHS with more than 100,000 posts unfilled, and with some hospital trusts declaring that this cap is affecting patient safety.

Dr Nagpaul said: “Given that the government has recognised the importance of a long-term solution to address the current workforce crisis in the NHS, the suggestion that the Prime Minister has blocked requests that would enable overseas doctors to practice in the NHS is deeply concerning.

“At a time when the NHS is under enormous strain and struggling to fill positions, the current visa restrictions and arbitrary caps for non-EU workers entering the UK are inexplicable and threatening patient care and safety.

“Delivering a more flexible immigration system which enables NHS recruitment is an easy win for the government and will have both long-term and immediate benefits for future prosperity of the NHS.”

Read the BMA’s letter.

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