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Theresa May’s immigration cap stopping non-EU doctors working in UK criticised

LONDON June 1: Theresa May’s immigration cap stopping hundreds of non-EU doctors from working in Britain was yesterday branded “bonkers” and “barmy” as health chiefs warned of 93,000 vacancies in the NHS.
Andrew Foster, chief executive of Wrightington, Wigan & Leigh NHS Trust, launched the scathing attack on the restrictions which are facing growing anger in the health service.
Official figures released under freedom of information laws showed 1,518 visa bids for doctor roles were turned down in the four months to March.
Mr Foster condemned the “bonkers decision” due to the monthly quota under the Tier 2 cap which has seen thousands of skilled workers refused permission to work in the UK.
“It’s absolutely barmy that one branch of Government is trying to increase the capacity of the NHS and another branch is stopping it from doing so,” he told BBC radio.
He stressed that there are around 10,000 doctor vacancies across the country but that 400 medical visas were rejected in the latest round, and that a recruitment scheme, which his trust co-ordinates, had seen nearly all of 120 Indian doctors refused visas three times.
Several Cabinet ministers have urged the Prime Minister to relax the Tier 2 cap which restricts the number of non-EU skilled workers to 20,700-a-year.
“We hear that they are thinking again, and they talk about being able to solve this problem at some point soon,” added Mr Foster.
But he fears some doctors will give up trying to work in Britain having been repeatedly refused a visa.
The Standard has been highlighting the situation for weeks and the BMJ medical journal has now launched a Scrap the Cap campaign.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a north London GP who heads the British Medical Association’s council, told the magazine, “At a time when the NHS is under enormous strain and struggling to fill positions, the current visa restrictions and arbitrary caps for non-EU workers entering the UK are inexplicable and threatening patient care and safety.
“The Tier 2 visa quota has been reached for the sixth month in a row, yet there are still thousands of posts unfilled, with vacancy rates rising.”
Jane Dacre, president of the Royal Colleges of Physicians, also criticised the current limits on overseas doctors.
She said: “The consequences are serious, pushing up waiting times and making NHS trusts spend more on temporary staff, a situation that could easily be avoided by a relaxation in the visa restrictions.”
More non-EU nurses are understood to be obtaining visas through the Tier 2 scheme as they are classed as a shortage profession, with fewer reported to be coming now to Brexit-hit Britain from other European Union countries.
The knock-on effect is there are fewer places for doctors and other professionals.
An Ipsos MORI survey for The Standard last week showed 37 per cent of Britons say there should be no cap on these doctors, while a further 27 per cent believe more visas should be issued for them.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The Government fully recognises the contribution that international professionals make to the UK and to our health service. 
“However, 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.”
However, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers which represents health trusts, stressed that there are around 93,000 posts unfilled in the NHS.
With trusts now nearly £1 billion in debt, he added that there was “a real danger of underestimating how difficult” the funding situation is.
He argued that the NHS needs a five per cent year-on-year increase in funding if it is to keep pace with levels of care on the Continent.”
With growing patient demand, he added: “The evidence shows really clearly that we need to see three per cent annual increase in the NHS budget just to stand still."