New RCN research reveals that changes to immigration rules will risk intensifying the severe shortage of nurses in the UK, compromising patient safety, as well as costing the health service millions.
Under the new rules, people from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) must be earning £35,000 or more before they are allowed to stay in the UK after six years. These rules will force many nurses to return to their home countries, leaving hospitals with nothing to show for the millions of pounds spent on recruiting them. The effects of the new rules will start being felt in 2017.
The RCN has calculated that up to 3365 nurses currently working in the UK will potentially be affected and estimates that it will have cost the NHS £20.19million to recruit them – money which will have been wasted if they are forced to leave the UK.
The figures for future years are even more worrying, particularly if overseas recruitment continues to rise as a result of a shortage of home-grown nurses and a crackdown on agency nurse spending.
If international recruitment stays the same as it is now, by 2020 the number of nurses affected by the threshold will be 6,620, employed at a cost of £39.7million. If workforce pressures force a higher rate of international recruitment, the number of nurses affected could be 29,755, costing over £178.5million to recruit.
Spending vast amounts of money on recruiting overseas nurses who will only be in the health system for a short period of time is a waste of valuable NHS time and resources. While Trusts are forced into relying on international recruitment to make up staffing numbers, the RCN calls on the Government to add nursing to the list of shortage occupations and to reconsider the £35k salary threshold.
The Government must take urgent steps to increase the number of UK nurse training places. This will reduce the over reliance on overseas recruitment in the longer term.
Tina Donnelly, Director, RCN Wales said: "We are acutely aware that these new laws will not only displace nurses from their current job roles but will also make it further difficult, or near impossible, for overseas recruitment to take place to help fill the nursing gap in the NHS."
"By introducing these new immigration rules it appears to all parties involved that there will be a distinct waste of resources by sending away nurses who have been a part of the health service for six years."
"In Wales, our highest volume of NHS workers are band 5 nurses who earn between £21,602 and £28,180. Very few nurses have salaries of £35,000 or more, meaning the likeliness of overseas nurses earning above this pay cap is extremely slim. This will not only jeopardise our recruitment possibilities, but jeopardise the future of health care delivery."
"Ultimately, we need to increase the number of nurses being trained in Wales, and the UK as a whole, if we are to make a real difference to staff shortages in the NHS. Currently there is an estimated shortfall of 3,000 nurses across Wales; 1,000 in the NHS and the rest in the private and voluntary sectors. By enforcing rules such as this, which will take away nurses who already have valuable experience and expertise, we are further hindering our ability to provide the highest standards of care to our patients."