LONDON (Reuters) - The British government will loosen immigration rules to allow more doctors and nurses from outside the European Union to come and work for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on Thursday.
NHS managers have long complained that an annual cap on the number of non-EU skilled workers who can come to Britain was making it hard for them to fill positions.
The cap, introduced by May when she was interior minister, is currently set at 20,700 non-EU skilled workers per year. It was part of a broader effort to reduce immigration in line with promises made to voters by the governing Conservative Party.
“The PM will, in due course, be setting out our long-term plan for the National Health Service. An important part of that is making sure that the NHS has more highly skilled doctors and nurses to deliver outstanding patient care,” the spokesman told reporters.
“What we will be announcing is that doctors and nurses are being excluded from the cap on skilled worker visas.”
He added that the government stood by its commitment to bring immigration down to “sustainable levels”. That net target is set at the tens, rather than the hundreds, of thousands.
Britain’s planned exit from the European Union is expected to result in restrictions on EU workers coming to the country, which could create further recruitment difficulties for the NHS.
The health service, which has relied on being able to recruit professionals from overseas for decades, currently has tens of thousands of vacancies.
Reporting by Estelle Shirbon and Elizabeth Piper; editing by Stephen Addison