London hospitals have been barred from hiring more than 80 foreign doctors and therapists due to visa restrictions, the Standard can reveal.
Barts Health, the UK’s biggest trust with five hospitals in east London, has been refused 35 visas in the last six months – 26 of them for senior doctors (see table below).
King’s College Hospital NHS Trust said 23 applications for doctor visas were refused between February and April.
Guy’s and St Thomas’ has been unable to recruit 17 top doctors, mainly at the specialist registrar grade, and a dental practitioner.
University College London Hospitals, which has nine sites in central London, has been blocked from recruiting eight doctors – despite making 19 visa applications.
The figures are a dramatic illustration of the increased challenge the NHS is facing to plug a shortage of home-grown medics.
An immigration cap restricts non-EU skilled workers to no more than 20,700 a year, and the number of “points” needed to receive a visa rises as places are given out.
Since December, Barts Health has applied for 92 “Tier 2 certificates of sponsorship” for potential recruits but been granted 57 – 10 doctors and 47 nurses. (See table above.)
The 35 refused include 26 medical registrars, five occupational therapists, four physiotherapists and one other health professional.
Registrars are senior doctors just underneath consultant level. “They keep the show on the road,” one source said.
“We only go overseas for really critical posts. It’s not cheap to do it. When you find someone who is willing and ready to move but they can’t because there’s no visa, it’s really frustrating.”
King’s, which also runs Princess Royal in Orpington, had 16 out of 39 visa applications approved. A spokeswoman said: “Proportionally, fewer tier two visa applications for doctors were accepted by the Home Office during February to April 2018 compared with the same period last year.”
UCLH said: “Since January 2018 we have filed 19 applications for Tier 2 visas for eight doctors from outside the EEA and none have been accepted.
“We are aware that we are not the only NHS trust affected and we support NHS Employers’ representations to the Government to address this problem.”
The Standard recently revealed that Prime Minister Theresa May had overruled a plea from Cabinet ministers for more foreign doctors to be granted visas.
Last week Heath Secretary Jeremy Hunt backed a special visa system to help the NHS tackle staff shortages.
The 12 medical royal colleges, British Medical Association and NHS Employers have written to Home Secretary Sajid Javid pleading for the cap to be reviewed as it was “affecting patient safety” in some trusts.
Barts Health said the cap has also caused “confusion” among foreign staff already at the trust who may require a visa extension. It had also sent its bill for locum doctors spiralling.
Even the loss of one doctor on a rota can cause major headaches for a department, requiring other staff to work overtime to cover or locum medics to be brought in from outside.
A Standard survey has revealed that visa problems have been encountered by other NHS trusts.
St George’s was unable to hire two genetics counsellors. Barking, Havering and Redbridge was blocked from recruiting an anaesthetist. London North West Healthcare said it had problems at the start of the year and a minority of applications were rejected last month.
The Home Office said: “The Government fully recognises the contribution that international professionals make to the UK. 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.
“When demand exceeds the monthly available allocation of Tier 2 (General) places, priority is given to applicants filling a shortage or PhD-level occupations. No occupation on the Shortage Occupation List — which is based on advice by the independent Migration Advisory Committee — has been refused a place.”