NHS warns of delays this winter unless more foreign nurses let in

ONE of the region’s main hospitals has written to the Government warning of delays and cancelled operations this winter unless it makes it easier for more foreign nurses to be recruited.

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Sheffield Teaching Hospitals are among 10 NHS trusts warning that patients could be put at risk as a result of stringent immigration rules.

The hospitals have signed a letter from the NHS Employers organisation to Home Secretary Theresa May urging the Government to address the shortage before the winter when demand peaks.

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They say around 1000 nurses from non-EU countries, including India and the Phillipines, have had their applications rejected by the Home Office while another 1,000 are expected to apply to work in the UK in the coming months.

They are asking the Government to list nursing as an occupation which has an official shortage for the next two years, until UK trained nurses become available.

Chief Executive of NHS Employers Danny Mortimer said they had seen a dramatic increase in the number of nurses following the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal and rising pressures in A&E.

He said: “Non-EU nurses are invaluable to the NHS. Whilst we are experiencing a mismatch between supply and demand we are asking that this is recognised and that nursing be placed on the shortage occupation list for the next two years.”

Mr Mortimer said hospitals are finding it difficult to get a certificate of sponsorship, which allows nurses and junior doctors from non EU countries a visa.

All applications for nurses in June and July were rejected, he said, amid competition from other applicants on higher salaries, who get more points in what is a weighted system.

Although 200 certificates were issued in August, there were still significant numbers of outstanding applications.

Ballet dancers and chefs are on the UK Shortage Occupations List, but the only nurses who currently make the list are those with specialisms in operating theatres and intensive neonatal units.

The independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommended against adding nursing in general to the list earlier this year.

They have been asked to review the decision but will not report back until Christmas - which hospital bosses argue is too late.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals said: “We do not currently have an issue, but as a leading teaching hospital we recognise the limitations which trusts face and therefore our chief executive Sir Andrew Cash has given his support to the national campaign as chair of NHS Employers to support others across the country. We are fortunate to have a good supply of nurses who want to come and work with us and recently recruited 140 nurses in readiness for the winter period.”

However the Home Office said 1,400 certificates of sponsorship had been given since April and over 600 had been returned unused. A spokesman said: “The figure quoted by NHS Employers is wrong. We will continue to monitor Tier 2 take-up, but have no plans to change the level of the annual limit of 20,700 places.”