UK visa issues risk shortage in care staff say NHS chiefs

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NHS leaders have warned that post-Brexit UK immigration rules will make visas difficult to access for care workers, sparking a potential shortage of staff. The NHS Confederation has urged government ministers to show ‘flexibility and pragmatism’ across the new system to prevent the flow of international care workers from drying up.


The concerns of the NHS Confederation come just days after the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) warned that many EU care workers risk losing their legal right to remain in the UK.

The NHS Confederation, which represents health organisations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, fears that care workers from Europe and elsewhere in the world will struggle to qualify for visas under the UK’s strict, post-Brexit immigration system. 


Hundreds of thousands of vacancies

Senior European policy manager for the Confederation, Kate Ling, told a parliamentary inquiry that there were 112,000 care work vacancies across the sector at any given time and that there are genuinely severe concerns that the new UK immigration rules will make the situation worse.

There is particular concern over the knock-on impact that a shortage of care workers will have on the NHS as it becomes increasingly difficult to discharge patients to care homes. 

Ms Ling told a House of Lords EU committee: “The health and social care sector in the UK suffers from an enormous shortage and unless there’s very significant additional  recruitment and retention, the situation will become more alarming.”


50,000 nurses target

A Conservative Party manifesto had targeted the recruitment of 50,000 nurses in England by 2025, but a  Health Foundation report said that it will be ‘insufficient.’ Meeting the target will rely heavily on UK immigration numbers among health professionals rising fast.

In contrast to care workers, the Home Office has created the new Health and Care visa route, under which most international healthcare workers will qualify for a visa based on their profession and enjoy fast-track entry to the UK, reduced fees and exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge, which doubled in late 2020.

Ms Ling said: “It’s a very different story for social care workers.”

“Frontline care workers do not qualify under the new points-based immigration system, they don't qualify for visas to enter the UK because they don't earn enough and they don't have high enough qualifications. There is really severe concern over the impact of the new system and the knock-on pressures on the NHS,” Ms Ling added.

The Senior European policy manager for the NHS Confederation warned that care workers from the EEA and further afield will find it hard to obtain a UK visa and said that the only way to prevent a shortage is to look to the domestic workforce.

Ms Ling pleaded with ministers to review the impact of ending free movement on Britain’s social care sector.

She said: “I would urge them not only to review the situation but to have the boldness and the wisdom - or perhaps we should say the flexibility and the pragmatism - to come forward with solutions. That could involve flexibility and discretion and making changes, possibly, to the UK immigration system.” can help with Skilled Worker visas and Sponsor Licences

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