According to NHS bosses, staff rota gaps and patient waiting times are worsening due to an increase in the number of doctors who are being refused permission to work in the UK.
Healthcare trust leaders have written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and wrote to former Home Secretary Amber Rudd in an attempt to resolve the issue, saying that the NHS has been 'stretched to its very limits' and that it is 'impossible to understand how this decision can have been reached'.
There is a fixed limit on the number of skilled non-EU workers that are granted UK work permits each month. This applies across all sectors, meaning that non-EU doctors are included in the same allocation as IT workers, teachers and office workers, for example.
According to Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, 400 work permits for non-EU doctors have been blocked since December, with clinic appointments being cancelled and patient care being severely delayed. It is increasingly difficult for the NHS to recruit and keep EU staff, making it ever more important to find and recruit doctors from outside the EU.
Some NHS positions are on the ‘shortage occupation list’, meaning that there is no cap on the number of skilled non-EU workers who are recruited to fill these positions. A&E nurses, clinical radiologists and paediatricians are included on the shortage occupation list. Doctors, to the 'shock' and 'concern' of Healthcare trusts, however, are not.
This warning comes as a new exhibition has opened at the Royal College of GPs, remembering the crucial role that South Asian doctors have played in the NHS. The exhibition is called Migrants Who Made the NHS and focuses on GPs from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who worked in some of the most deprived parts of the UK from the 1940s-1980s, filling a gap created by UK-trained doctors who did not want to work as GPs or who chose to work abroad. Professor Mayur Lakhani, President of the Royal College of GPs has said: 'general practice in the UK would not be what it is today without the hard work, innovation, and courage of [South Asian doctors] and their dedication to delivering high-quality patient care. Indeed, without them, our profession and the NHS might not even exist at all'.
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