RCP welcomes government's reversal on NHS immigration cap

The RCP welcomes home secretary Sajid Javid's announcement that doctors and nurses will now be excluded from the government's cap on skilled migration.

In response to the announcement, RCP president Professor Dame Jane Dacre said:

We are delighted that the government has responded to pressure from the RCP and others to remove this restrictive cap. To have a pool of qualified overseas doctors ready and waiting but unable to work has been a huge source of frustration for our overstretched NHS.

We mustn't ignore the wider growing workforce crisis though, where high numbers of doctors are nearing retirement age. Investment in a more sustainable workforce, including creating more medical school places and expanding the ethical Medical Training Initiative (MTI), is needed now.

With 2,360 visas refused between November and April and an unknown number in May, we look forward to swift implementation of this policy reversal and welcoming more doctors to the UK so we can deliver the standards of care patients deserve.

[we] look forward to swift implementation of this policy reversal and welcoming more doctors to the UK so we can deliver the standards of care patients deserve.

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, RCP president

In a statement, 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.

Earlier this year Professor Dacre wrote to both prime minister Theresa May and then home secretary Amber Rudd asking them to urgently address the tier 2 visa issue, recommending excluding applications for shortage occupation roles from the allocation process, to allow more doctors entry to the UK. The RCP also called for an expansion to MTI tier 5 visas.

The letter highlighted how within the current climate of widespread staff shortages, the restrictive approach on the NHS:

  • reduced the availability of clinical staff to see patients
  • increased temporary staffing costs as NHS organisations are required to provide clinical cover in hospitals 24-7
  • affected the reputation of the NHS both with the domestic population around ability to manage demand, and confidence and credibility overseas within the global medical professional community.

The RCP has continued to press for action, garnering cross party support from chair of the Health and Social Care Committee Sarah Wollaston, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth, shadow immigration minister Afzal Khan and senior MPs from both sides of the house.

According to think tank Global Future, 12.5% of NHS England's staff are from overseas. That number rises to 45% in certain specialities. Currently, the cap sets the limit for all non-EU skilled workers at 20,700 a year.