The UK's healthcare industry has been left with a nursing shortfall of 24,000 staff this year according to consultancy firm, Christie & Co, due to a combination of tougher UK immigration rules for Tier 2 visas, spending cuts and a decline in student numbers.
Christie & Co, a firm specialising in providing business advice across many specialist sectors, say that although there has been an increase in EU immigration numbers, 7,000 fewer nurses entered the UK in 2014-15, compared with 2003-04. Nurses that did come to the UK in 2015 from the EU were most likely to be from Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Fewer numbers of UK and overseas students enrolling on nursing courses have also hit the industry sector. With the reduction in the number of student places, less national and international students are qualifying to become nurses each year.
Tougher UK immigration rules
The decline in overseas nurses coming to Britain is partly down to stricter UK immigration rules for Tier 2 visas. In addition with the monthly Tier 2 visa quota being insufficient to meet demand for this visa the situation is likely to become worse in future.
With overseas nurses hit by tougher Tier 2 immigration rules the NHS, which has a workforce of around 1.4 million and has relied on overseas workers since its inception in 1948, is suffering a chronic skills shortage.
Chief executive of Barchester Healthcare, Pete Calveley, said: "We are seeking to employ nurses from India, the Philippines and South Africa because in general they are of an exceptionally high calibre. However, we are unable to recruit them.
It's our hope, now that the election has been concluded, that the political climate will be a better one in which to raise the issue of immigration policy concerning nurses. It's absolutely critical."
As the third-largest operator of care homes in Britain, and a contributor to the Christie & Co. report, Barchester Healthcare views tougher immigration rules as a major barrier for nurses wanting to come to the UK. Mr Calveley went onto say that "they simply do not feel welcome."
Reliant on staff from overseas
In 2014, the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) published a report showing how Britain's healthcare industry relies on the recruitment of overseas nationals. In particular, the report highlights that 11% of all healthcare staff and 26% of doctors in the UK are foreign nationals, with personnel employed from over 200 countries.
Commenting on the report at the time of its publication, Tim Finch of the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank, said: "These statistics hold lessons for UK immigration policy."
However, the director of Christie & Co., Michael Hodges, believes that the nursing shortfall is not just a result of the declining number of overseas nurses entering the UK. He believes that the shortage is a 'homegrown problem', saying: "Primarily, we are suffering inadequate workplace planning, a consequence of the austerity measures seen in recent years.
Decline in student places
In addition to tougher UK immigration rules having an impact on nurse recruitment, Christie & Co. identified a decline in the number of student places made available. Since 2013, to be register as a qualified nurse a three-year degree course must be completed.
However, the number of publicly funded student places dropped from 22,000 in 2008-09 to 17,000 in 2012-13. Consequently, 3,000 fewer graduates registered with the Nursery and Midwifery Council in 2014-15 compared with 2013-14.
Care homes suffering most
The combination of tougher immigration rules, declining student numbers and spending cuts is hitting care homes – the majority of which are operated by the private sector – particularly hard as recruiting personnel is made increasingly difficult.
The Christie & Co. report reveals that care homes, in 2015, have a vacancy rate of 9 per cent in comparison with the National Health Service (NHS), which has a 7 per cent vacancy rate. To plug the gap, the last two years has seen a 55 per cent increase in the use of agency staff across Britain's care homes, which has seen costs soar.
Mr Hodges said: "With it becoming harder to recruit staff from overseas and fewer graduates, agency staff are a necessity. While they are more expensive, they fill the gaps and if the gaps are left unfilled problems across the healthcare industry would grow worse."