Health sector accused over foreign nurses recruitment

The health sector has been attacked over a shortage of nurses and accused of seeing immigration as a "get-out-of-jail-free card" by government advisers.

A highly-critical report concluded that the lack of staff is mostly down to factors which "could, and should, have been anticipated" by the Department of Health and related bodies.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) said it was recommending "with considerable reluctance" that nurses remain on the "shortage occupation list", which includes roles given a priority for work visas for skilled nationals from outside Europe.

Professor Sir David Metcalf, chairman of the committee, said: "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."

Nurses were added to the list on an interim basis in October 2015 to ensure there were safe staffing levels across the NHS over the winter.

The committee was told by the Department of Health that employers in England will look to recruit 11,000 nurses from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) over the next four years. This could rise to more than 14,000 for the UK as a whole.

In 2014/15 some 8,000 foreign-born nurses were recruited, mainly from the EEA.

The committee said it found evidence suggesting that employers are using non-EEA nurses to save money rather than address the shortage through other means.

It previously found that on average migrant nurses are being paid £6,000 less than equivalent UK workers.

The report also said:

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

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

:: Continued financial pressures on NHS budgets - including ongoing pay restraint for nurses - have played a key role and may have incentivised healthcare bosses to recruit migrant nurses at lower cost.