The government is to remove its tier two visa cap for non-EU doctors and nurses, the Home Office has confirmed.
Home secretary Sajid Javid has announced that the cap will be lifted for doctors and nurses from outside the EU, meaning there will be no restriction on the numbers of clinicians who can be employed through the Tier 2 visa route.
Tier two visas are given to workers who have a skilled job offer and are not from the European Economic Area and there is currently a limit of 20,700 visas available per year across various professions.
The change will be outlined in Immigration Rules laid before Parliament tomorrow, the Home Office confirmed.
NHS leaders have previously branded the visa cap as “not logical” and a threat to patient safety.
Mr Javid said: “I recognise the pressures faced by the NHS and other sectors in recent months. Doctors and nurses play a vital role in society and at this time we need more in the UK. That is why I have reviewed our skilled worker visa route.”
“This is about finding a solution to increased demand and to support our essential national services,” he added.
Nicky Hill, director of human resources at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, told HSJ scrapping the cap would be “good news” as it will enable the trust to “recruit to fill posts that are critical for service delivery and patient safety”.
“Overseas clinicians are a hugely valued part of our team so this is a positive step for us,” Ms Hill said.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said he welcomes the government’s review of the tier two visa system.
“Many of our employers could not again get certificates of sponsorship for doctors during May. It is now six months since we first started having problems, along with other sectors,” Mr Mortimer said.
Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association council chair, said the removal of the cap would be a “welcome relief to doctors and patients, who have witnessed first-hand the damage that this policy has caused”.
“Overseas doctors make an invaluable contribution to our health service, and at a time when there are thousands of unfilled vacancies within the NHS, it is absurd that the government should stop experienced and talented healthcare professionals coming to work here,” Dr Nagpaul said.
Phillippa Hentsch, head of analysis at NHS Providers, said the news was of “huge relief” for trusts.
“Recruitment problems caused by the cap have resulted in rota gaps, often filled by paying premium locum rates. That is not good for continuity of care for patients, or for trusts’ finances,” Ms Hentsch said.
However, she warned that although lifting the cap would ease the immediate problems it was a “first step in addressing the wider workforce challenges”.
“It is vital too that training here is expanded to meet the longer-term workforce needs in health and social care,” she said.
Adrian James, registrar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the government’s decision to lift restrictions on tier two visas would ”help patients and ensure that we can continue our drive to improve mental health services”.
According to the latest NHS Improvement data, there are almost 10,000 vacancies in the medical workforce and over 35,000 for nurses.
HSJ reported earlier this year that NHS Employers, the medical royal colleges and other NHS leaders have been lobbying the Department of Health and Social Care and the Home Office to exclude nurses from its tier two visa cap to free up places for doctors.
Updated at 4pm on 14 June to reflect Home Office confirmation the visa cap would be lifted.