The Home Office has confirmed reports that it will lift the cap on the number of international doctors granted visas to work in the UK.
The new plans mean there will be no restriction on the number of doctors and nurses who can be employed through the ‘tier 2’ visa route.
GP leaders have said lifting the cap is a ‘very positive step in addressing the workforce pressures facing general practice in the shorter term’.
This comes after the home secretary said last week that he would take a ‘fresh look’ at the visa rules that cap the number of overseas doctors allowed to work in the NHS.
Under the ‘tier 2’ scheme, only 20,700 skilled workers from outside the EU are allowed to work in the UK, across an array of professions, preventing hundreds of qualified doctors from working in the NHS.
Home secretary Sajid 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.’
The Home Office added that Mr Javid is expected to lay changes to the tier 2 visa cap before Parliament tomorrow.
Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘Overseas staff have been a vital part of our NHS since its creation 70 years ago. Today’s news sends a clear message to nurses and doctors from around the world that the NHS welcomes and values their skills and dedication.
‘It’s fantastic that patients will now benefit from the care of thousands more talented staff.
‘This builds on steps we have already taken to make sure the NHS has the staff it needs for the future – boosting training places for home-grown doctors and nurses by 25% and giving over a million NHS employees a well-deserved pay rise.’
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the announcement is ‘a fantastic and much-needed victory for common sense and patient care’.
She said: ‘We are currently desperately short of GPs in the UK. Our workload is escalating both in terms of volume and complexity, yet despite the Government’s pledge for 5,000 more family doctors by 2020, the number of GPs working in the NHS in England is actually falling.’
She added: ‘Regardless of the cap on Tier 2 visas, there remain significant barriers for GPs to employ doctors from overseas.
‘We urge the home secretary to address these in his announcement tomorrow: to cut the arduous red tape and significant costs standing in the way of GP practices obtaining the necessary licence to do this; and to use his powers to add GPs to the Migration Advisory Committee’s shortage occupation list.
‘Recruiting GPs from overseas will not solve the workforce crisis and we are committed to training more GPs in the UK – but it takes at least 10 years to train a GP, and lifting the cap on Tier 2 visas is a very positive step in addressing the workforce pressures facing general practice in the shorter term.’
The latest figures show that 1,000 GPs have left the profession since September 2015 – when health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced he would increase the number of FTE GPs in England by 5,000.
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘It will be a relief to patients and staff across the NHS that common sense has finally prevailed and the Tier-2 visa restrictions on non-EU doctors and nurses are to be lifted.
He added: ‘These regulations have prevented thousands of non-EU doctors being allowed to work in the UK to fill empty posts that the health service is unable to fill.
‘The NHS has always relied on these highly-skilled, experienced overseas doctors to provide frontline care to patients, and they are needed more than ever at a time when the NHS is under mounting pressure from rising demand, stagnating funding and staff shortages.’
GP leaders have previously warned that the Prime Minister’s refusal to relax visa rules for skilled doctors from overseas was ‘deeply concerning’ and would affect patient safety.
However, Pulse revealed that just 85 GPs from abroad were in post as of the end of March.