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Former health secretary tells Theresa May: Lift visa cap on non-EU workers or risk NHS staff crisis

Liz Bates

2 min read

A former Tory health secretary has called on Theresa May to lift the visa cap limiting the number of foreign workers that can be recruited to the NHS every year, or risk a staffing crisis.


Stephen Dorrell told the Independent the limit on non-EU skilled workers, imposed by Mrs May when she was Home Secretary, should be reconsidered as the number of EU NHS staff is squeezed ahead of Brexit.

Mr Dorrell, who served as health secretary for two years under John Major, told the newspaper: “We know there is a staffing shortage, a recruitment problem for our health service.

“We also know there’s been a numerical fall in the number coming in from the EU and a compensating increase, to the extent allowed, has come from non-EU workers.

“But if the staffing requirements are not being met in our current circumstances then, then we need to look at what can be done. Any visa quota absolutely should be looked at again.”  

Official figures released this week showed EU net migration falling, with 130,000 Europeans leaving the UK – the highest recorded level since the 2008 financial crisis.

Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said: “We have a workforce crisis in the NHS thanks to Theresa May’s utter incompetence over many years.

“Theresa May’s red tape is stopping hospitals from recruiting the staff needed. Patients deserve better.”

A Home Office spokesperson responded: “It is important that our immigration system works in the national interest, ensuring that employers look first to the UK resident labour market before recruiting from overseas.

“The tier-2 visa route is intended to fill gaps in the labour market. When demand exceeds the month’s allocation of tier-2 (general) visas, priority is given to applicants filling a shortage or PhD-level occupations. 

“The published shortage lists include a range of medical professionals, including consultants specialising in clinical radiology, emergency medicine and all nurses, and we estimate that around a third of all tier-2 places go to the NHS.”

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