Scrap the ‘Madness’ of the employment cap says BMJ

The Editor of the UK’s most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journal has described the government’s current cap on visas preventing doctors from entering the UK to take jobs in the NHS as “Madness’.

Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of The BMJ, made the remark as the magazine launched a campaign to ‘Scrap the Cap’ by demanding an urgent review of immigration policies so that doctors from outside the European Economic Area who have been offered jobs in the NHS can take up their posts.

According to the journal, more than 1500 visa applications from doctors with job offers in the UK were refused entry between December 2017 and March 2018 as a result of the Home Office’s cap on the number of tier 2 visas issued to workers.

The campaign launches with a petition to Parliament aimed at demonstrating the strength of feeling against ‘red tape’ that prevents qualified doctors from overseas working here and comes as NHS trusts across the country have disclosed details of the number of medical posts that have been unfilled due to the Home Office rejecting visa applications.

Examples cited include University College London Hospitals NHS Trust, which has filed 19 tier 2 visa applications for eight doctors from outside the EEA since January 2018 of which none have been accepted, and at Nottingham University Hospitals, 18 doctors have had their tier 2 visa applications refused since December 2017, leaving increasing numbers of gaps in rotas including in specialties like spinal medicine, ENT, and neurosurgery.

It is anticipated that the number of tier 2 visas allocated each month will be reached for the sixth month in a row in May. The result is, say The BMJ, that hundreds of NHS posts will remain unfilled, putting extra pressure on overstretched staff and threatening the care of patients.

In a press release Fiona Godlee said:

“There’s a sort of madness in the current restrictions. The UK has always relied on and welcomed doctors from overseas. Now, just when we most need them, we are putting roadblocks in their way, and wasting precious money, time and international goodwill.” 

The campaign comes after the British Medical Association, 12 medical royal colleges, the organisation NHS Employers, and other professional bodies co-authored a letter to the home secretary, Sajid Javid on May 3, asking for the cap to be reviewed. The letter urged the government to exclude from the allocation process applications from workers in roles on the UK shortage occupation list, including nurses and some medical specialties.

The Royal College of Physicians, The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Royal College of Radiologists have indicated their support for The BMJ’s campaign, as has NHS Employers and the British International Doctors’ Association.

This latest concerted intervention by the professional medical community will re-ignite concerns about NHS understaffing and keep the spotlight firmly on immigration and staff recruitment issues in Post-Brexit Britain.

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