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Immigration plans will pile more pressure on an overburdened NHS, say health bosses

Health and social care organisations are warning that government plans to tighten Health and Care visas could have a “ruinous” effect on the NHS.

Health and social care organisations are warning that government plans to tighten Health and Care visas could have a “ruinous” effect on the NHS.

The new plans, announced by the Home Secretary James Cleverly, will tighten the Health and Care visa, preventing care workers from bringing family dependants to the UK and raising the minimum income for family visas from £18,600 to £38,700.

The law which allows the most-needed professions to be hired at 20% below the going rate will also be scrapped, and foreign workers will now have to pay nearly double to use the NHS (£1,035 annually up from £624).

Although health and care workers will be exempt from increased NHS charges and minimum salary increases, union leaders and health bosses are warning that the new measures will exacerbate staff vacancies and put the NHS under more strain.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said the “cruel plans spell total disaster for the NHS and social care” and risks a “total collapse of the UK’s care system.”

Health and Care visas introduced during pandemic to plug workforce gaps

The Health and Care visa was introduced in 2020 to plug workforce gaps during the Covid pandemic. In total, 101,000 Health and Care visas were issued to care workers and senior care workers in 2023, with an estimated 120,000 visas granted to associated dependants.

However, the government estimates that the majority of these dependents “don’t work, but still make use of public services.”

A government spokesperson said the new measures will address concerns about “high levels of non-compliance, worker exploitation and abuse within the adult social care sector”, while continuing to protect the NHS and social care systems.”

One in six NHS staff from overseas

However, the Cavendish Coalition, a group of health and social care organisations hosted by NHS employers, says the government must not assume foreign workers will still come to work in the UK without their families.

Currently, there are more than 100,000 vacancies in the NHS, and modelling from the Home Office predicts that, with the introduction of these new laws, 100,000 fewer workers will come through health and social care routes.

The Cavendish Coalition says that health and social care services will not be able to function with a a reduction to its international workforce, who account for one in six NHS staff in England, and 16 per cent across adult social care.

The group are concerned that this restriction will discourage workers from coming to the UK for employment in the future, which could affect treatment and referral waiting times.

The Royal College of Nursing has also warned that staffing shortages in social care will add even more pressure to our overburdened NHS.

“Anything that limits or deters nursing staff from coming to the UK – including any changes to the shortage occupations list – will only add to the dire workforce crisis in the health and care sector. The new salary threshold is higher than an average nurse’s wage. If they change nursing’s place on the exemption list, this will hit hard on the NHS.

“Faced with such significant staff shortages, we must be open to ethical international recruitment while significantly increasing investment in domestic nursing education,” said RCN Chief Nurse, Professor Nicola Ranger.

Filling staff vacancies should be a top priority for the government

Danny Mortimer, co-chair of the Cavendish Coalition and chief executive of the NHS Employers is now urging the government to stop the proposals.

“The UK has always benefitted from hugely talented staff coming to work in social care and health from around the world and we remain hugely reliant on the contribution of these colleagues to care for the communities we serve.

“That is why social care and health leaders will be extremely concerned about the news that the Government has plans to curb how many family members overseas social care and health workers can bring with them to the UK. As a country, we must do everything we can to make ourselves a more, not less, attractive destination for employment, especially in the midst of a continued vacancy crisis across our sector and in the absence of long-term plans for social care services.

“With global demand of health workers set to rise to 80 million by 2030, we would urge the Government to halt these senseless proposals and protect recruitment into social care and health services,” he said.

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