Hospital Dr News

Poor workforce planning and funding leads to continued need to recruit nurses from overseas

The committee which advises the government on migration has reluctantly recommended that nurses remain on the shortage occupation list (SOL) – while criticising the government for failing to anticipate the problem of staff shortages.

In its latest report, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) says the current shortage of nurses is mostly down to factors which could, and should, have been anticipated by health sector leaders.

Many of these issues – including an ageing population, problems with staff training, pay and recruitment – have been compounded by the squeeze on NHS budgets, it says.

It recommends health sector employers have continued access to the SOL due to the lack of another short term solution. Department of Health evidence to the MAC suggested it will be another three years before there are enough UK-born nurses to meet demand.

The MAC was commissioned by the Government to review whether there is a shortage of nurses or specific nursing job titles which it would be sensible to fill through non-EEA migration. Although the MAC were told there was no shortage of nurses a year ago, nurses were added to the shortage occupation list on an interim basis in October 2015 to ensure there were safe staffing levels across the NHS over the winter period.

Professor Sir David Metcalf, Chair of the MAC, said: “We have reluctantly made this recommendation. However, there is no good reason why the supply of nurses cannot be sourced domestically. There seems to be an automatic presumption that non-EEA skilled migration provides the health and care sector with a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card.

“The long term solution to addressing this shortage is recruiting and retaining staff by providing sufficient incentive and opportunity.”

The MAC had previously found that, on average, migrant nurses are being paid £6,000 less than equivalent UK workers. In its review, the Committee found evidence suggesting employers are using non-EEA nurses to save money rather than address the shortage through other means.

The MAC said the current shortage of nurses in England is closely linked to the decision to cut training places in England by almost a fifth between 2009 and 2013.

Poor workforce planning remains a problem and until recently it did not take into account the demand for nurses in the care and independent sectors.

Danny Mortimer, Chief Executive of NHS Employers, said: “We are delighted with the recommendation to retain nurses on the shortage occupation list. Demand for skilled overseas staff will continue whilst domestic supply increases and this decision will be welcomed by all providers of health and care. We await with interest the full response from the Home Office to MAC’s recommendations both on nurses and tier 2 migration.

“In making its recommendation MAC comments on a wide range of issues. In particular they appear to be suggesting that the NHS is, as a matter of policy, underpaying international recruits relative to their domestic counterparts. This misunderstands the way in which previous service in the NHS is recognised by employers.”

Read the full report.

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