I welcome the recent announcement by the UK Government that it will remove the immigration cap on foreign doctors and nurses. I have consistently questioned the logic of turning away qualified medical professionals from working in the NHS at a time when it is struggling to fill vacancies.
Our health service has always relied on the contribution of overseas workers. However, the UK Government’s ‘hostile environment’ approach to immigration policy has failed patients as the NHS has been unable to recruit more doctors and nurses from overseas. The NHS must be able to hire the staff it needs from abroad to provide safe levels of care.
I pay tribute to the British Medical Association (BMA), NHS Employers and Medical Royal Colleges for pressing the Home Secretary to urgently review the Tier-2 visa cap. The BMA has consistently expressed its concerns that, at a time when the NHS is struggling to fill vacancies, visa restrictions and caps for non-EU workers have prevented overseas doctors from caring for patients.
Although immigration is a reserved matter, health is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Despite the brilliant efforts of NHS staff who work tirelessly in the face of increasing pressures, I am concerned that Scotland’s NHS is at breaking point. We have an NHS workforce that is overworked, under pressure, under-resourced and underpaid. Indeed, a report from Audit Scotland last year found that NHS Scotland faces a staffing crisis unless workforce planning is dramatically improved.
I therefore support the NHS Workforce Commission established by my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament to find solutions to the chronic shortage of NHS and social care staff across the sector. The Commission aims to develop a clear and ambitious workforce plan that will help build staff morale and deliver a Scottish NHS and social care system fit for the 21st century.
The visa rules have not worked in the best interests of NHS patients. I will press the UK Government to put patient safety first and ensure that the NHS in Scotland and across the UK is able to recruit the doctors and nurses that are needed.