After the temporary measure of adding nurses to the shortage occupation list on 15 October 2015, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), in a report published on 24 March 2016, has reluctantly recommended that nurses remain on the shortage occupation list.

It is anticipated that nurses will now remain on the shortage occupation list for the next three years whilst the UK market trains enough nurses to meet the shortfall in staffing, although MAC indicated that they would review the position again in two to three years time.

MAC identified that the shortage of nurses was attributable to changes in health care, the increasing numbers of older people, changes to the role of nurses, changes to staffing guidelines and the pressure on wages from falling budgets, all of which posed significant challenges to workforce planning, particularly in the independent sector.

Issues raised in the MAC report:

  • MAC expressed concern that it would now be "open season" on health organisations receiving applications from nurses outside the EU to come to the UK to work. To address this concern, MAC have suggested that the Government consider inserting a cap on the number of nurses that can be assigned a certificate of sponsorship with a suggested ceiling of 3,000 to 5,000 places in the first year, to be reviewed (with a view to reduction) thereafter.
  • Whilst it is the case that if a job is on the shortage occupation list then the resident labour market test does not have to be completed, MAC recommended that the resident labour market test should still be a requirement for a nurses role on the shortage occupation list to ensure that every opportunity is given to recruiting staff from the UK market.
  • Adult nursing is the category of nurses most in shortage, for both public and private sector health organisations. MAC rejected the option of limiting the shortage occupation list to the adult nursing category as it risked creating recruitment shortages in other specialisms such as neo natal nurses.

What does this mean for health sector employers?

Whilst this is good news for the health sector and allows staffing pressures to continue to be relieved via overseas recruitment, there are some notable concerns raised in the MAC report.

Should the government follow the MAC recommendations of an annual cap on the number of nurses who can be allocated a certificate of sponsorship and also enforce the resident labour market in relation to nurses, this would still limit the number of nurses posts that can be recruited for candidates from outside the EU. Continued nursing shortages may therefore be inevitable.

The report should be read with caution and we await the Government's decision on whether it implements the recommendations. It is clear that MAC view the long term solution as recruiting and retaining staff from the UK market by providing sufficient incentive and opportunity. In the meantime, health sector employers should ensure that workforce planning maximises all recruitment options.