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Government to take ‘fresh look’ at doctor immigration cap

The home secretary has said he would take a ‘fresh look’ at visa rules that cap the number of overseas doctors allowed to work in the NHS.

The visa rules have meant hundreds of qualified doctors have been prevented from working in the NHS, while almost half of GPs have vacancies in their practice.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, home secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘I see the problem with that. It is something that I’m taking a fresh look at.

‘I know a number of my colleagues certainly want me to take a fresh look at this and that’s exactly what I’m doing.’

This comes after GP leaders warned last month that the Prime Minister’s refusal to relax visa rules for skilled doctors from overseas was ‘deeply concerning’ and would affect patient safety.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘It is important that the home secretary now acts swiftly with a practical solution, so that the NHS can recruit the several hundreds of available overseas doctors who can start work imminently to ease pressure in a health service under escalating strain.

‘The NHS could not survive without the vital contribution of overseas doctors, and it is vital that the government puts the needs of patients first by implementing a flexible immigration policy that allows us to employ the doctors needed to serve the health needs of the nation.’

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: ‘Many of our employers could not again get certificates of sponsorship for doctors during May. It is now six months since we first started having problems, along with other sectors. 

‘The NHS is fast approaching the major August intake and changeover period for many doctors in training.

‘A speedy, effective solution is urgently needed to clear the backlog, account for any increase in applications linked to the August changeover and provide a sustainable approach to the management of the system.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard wrote in a letter to the home secretary last week: ‘Most doctors in other medical specialities already meet the five-year criteria for application [for Indefinite Leave to Remain] by the time they finish speciality training in the UK.

‘However, as GP training is just three years, they cannot apply for ILR until they have been in the UK for a further two years. This means that application for Tier 2 sponsorship is often their only option.’

‘It is clear from recent media reports that the public support the relaxing of immigration rules for people wanting to come from overseas to live in the UK to work in the NHS.’

She added: ‘We need an immigration system that puts human beings and common sense over policy and process, and works in the best interests of the British public.’

Last year, NHS England increased its target for its overseas recruitment programme from 500 to 2,000 GPs to offset retirement.

However, Pulse revealed that just 85 GPs from abroad were in post as of the end of March.