NHS doctors blocked by ‘arbitrary’ visa rules

Fully-qualified foreign doctors are being prevented from taking up NHS jobs because of “arbitrary” visa rules which critics say are exacerbating the crisis in the health service.

Sky News has spoken to clinicians, hospital trusts and recruitment agencies frustrated at rules which they say are preventing the NHS filling some of the estimated 10,000 vacant doctors posts.

They say applications are being rejected because demand for Home Office Tier 2 visas exceeds monthly quotas, and the points system used to sort applicants mean doctors need contracts worth in excess of £55,000.

More than 20,000 Tier 2 visas are granted using a points-based system to workers from outside the EU every year across all professions, with around one-third going to NHS staff whose jobs are on an approved ‘shortage list’, such as emergency department doctors.

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Many other disciplines are not considered in short supply, and Home Office rules means those on standard middle-grade salaries are effectively barred.

The Home Office uses a points system to distribute a monthly quota of visas. When demand exceeds supply more points are required – it has risen from 21 points to more than 50 in the last year – with salary a major part of the calculation.

Asda Ali, a doctor from Lahore, told Sky News he had been offered a job by South Tees Hospital Trust, but could not take it up because his visa has been rejected.

“It’s quite frustrating because I am not working in Pakistan and I have been waiting for my sponsorship letter,” he said.

“When I heard from the HR department that my sponsorship letter got rejected again, it’s totally frustrating when you have passed all the exams, you have to for the [General Medical Council] registration, and then they say it is the visa.”

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South Tees confirmed they had applications for four Tier 2 visas rejected this month, for doctors who had been appointed to posts in general surgery, diabetes and renal medicine.

Both Cambridge and Birmingham university hospital trusts confirmed doctors had been unable to take up positions with them because of what is effectively a salary threshold.

BDI Resourcing, a specialist medical recruitment agency in Bristol, said they were deeply frustrated at “crazy” rules that prevented them filling vacancies.

“We are speaking to clinical directors and lead consultants, business managers and HR managers and pretty much everyone from top to bottom of the hospital say they need staff,” said Daniel Platts, a director.

“The Home Office says it is to protect British workers but there are not thousands of British doctors out there who have not got jobs.

“We are hearing every week that departments are going unstaffed and that patients aren’t being seen, people are being seen in ambulances and sat on beds in corridors. It’s terrible, but if we had some of those doctors here it would relieve some of that pressure.”

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The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said the rules should be changed.

“This cap is affecting the ability for the UK to provide the medical workforce the population needs, we are seeing and hearing of examples where doctors who could be working providing services to patients being denied that ability due to an arbitrary fixed cap,” said chairman Chand Naipaul.

The Home Office said the question of whether more doctor grades should be on the shortage list was for the Department of Health.

In an statement a spokesperson said: “When demand exceeds the month’s allocation of Tier 2 (General) visas, priority is given to applicants filling a shortage or PhD-level occupations.

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

“We are committed to ensuring that net migration is reduced to sustainable levels and that the jobs of British workers are protected.”