Unsustainable to prop up social care with workforce on visas, say NHS Trusts

Relying on international recruitment to plug gaps in the health and social care workforce is “unsustainable”, trust leaders said, as figures showed health and care worker visas have more than doubled in a year.

A rise in non-EU immigration to the UK in the year ending June 2023 was mainly driven by migrants coming for work and largely attributed to those coming on health and care visas, the Office for National Statistics said.

Home Office figures published on Thursday show 143,990 health and care worker visas were granted in the year ending September 2023, more than double the 61,274 for the year to September 2022.

The top three nationalities on these visas are Indian, Nigerian and Zimbabwean, the Home Office said.

Health and care work visas were the most common type of work visa on which dependants came to the UK and is driving the increase in immigration of those on work dependant visas, the ONS said.

The 143,990 figure is just for main visa applicants and does not include dependants.

The New Conservatives group on the Tory right has called for ministers to close temporary visa schemes for care workers as part of an effort to slash net migration by the time of the election expected next year.

Medical professionals can come to, or stay in, the UK to do an eligible job with the NHS, an NHS supplier or in adult social care, on a health and care worker visa.

Visas last for up to five years and can be extended, while partners and children can also apply to join as the main applicant’s “dependants”.

NHS Providers, which represents trusts in England, said the “understaffed health and social care system relies on the contribution of highly valued staff from overseas to keep it going”.

But they warned this alone is not enough, saying the domestic workforce must be given a “turbo-boost” in order to create a “sustainable, diverse, and skilled workforce for the future”.

Dr Madeleine Sumption (pictured), director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said the long-term solution to shortages in the care workforce is likely to be better investment in the sector and higher pay for staff, rather than a continued reliance on workers coming from abroad.

She said: “In the long run, the solution to the problems in care is not necessarily extremely high levels of care worker migration permanently, the solution is likely to involve funding the care sector so that people in the UK are willing to do the jobs.

“And I think part of the challenge the Government faces is that people are coming into care and it’s really helping care employers and they’re able to provide care that they weren’t able to provide a couple of years ago and that’s having a benefit in the short run.

“But in the long run, solving the problem and actually addressing the challenge of recruitment in the care sector is really expensive, because it involves paying people enough to persuade them to do the job.”

NHS Providers chief executive, Sir Julian Hartley, said: “Our understaffed health and social care system relies on the contribution of highly valued staff from overseas to keep it going. “But this isn’t sustainable.

“With more than 125,000 vacancies across the NHS in England and around 150,000 in social care, we can’t keep relying on international recruitment to plug these huge gaps.

“We need to turbo-boost the number of domestically trained health and social care staff alongside welcoming colleagues from abroad to join the service.

“The NHS long-term workforce plan aims to increase the number of staff working in the health service in the coming years, but it needs to be backed up by sufficient funding.

“The migration statistics show just how desperately we need a similar plan for the social care workforce, too.

“Social care staff must be better paid, better valued and better trained if we want to create a sustainable, diverse, and skilled workforce for the future.”

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