The lack of doctors and nurses in Accident and Emergency departments could be solved if the Government relaxed visa restrictions so more foreign staff can be recruited, an NHS leader has claimed.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the Foundation Trust Network, said that allowing more medics from outside the EU to work in the health service could be vital in ensuring patients were properly cared for.
Some 36% of trusts currently have vacancies for A&E consultants, and both ministers and NHS managers say a lack of staff is greatly increasing pressure on emergency departments.
Mr Hopson told Sky News: “There is a shortage of doctors and nurses particularly in A&E. It really is quite a long-seated problem.
“It’s clear that for some trusts one way of filling the gap is to recruit doctors and nurses from overseas and … it does seem rather difficult to navigate through the immigration bureaucracy to get the doctors and nurses that we need.
“Nobody in the NHS wants to recruit from abroad because we’re potentially robbing other health systems to support our own. But given the gap we currently have in the emergency workforce we do know that one way to solve it is to recruit from overseas and we would like as much support as possible from the Government to achieve that.”
However, Jeremy Hunt warned the health service needed to ensure that foreign doctors were properly qualified.
The Health Secretary told Sky News: “We are able to recruit people from overseas and I don’t believe the issue is the difficulty of getting a visa. We need to make sure that people who come from overseas speak English and have the qualifications to give the high quality care that the NHS is famous for.
“I’m sure that overseas doctors and nurses will have an important role to play but I would also like to train British people to do these jobs in the long term. I’d like to make sure we have a home grown workforce.”
In June this year the Government announced it was launching a recruitment drive in India to try to plug the vacancies.
At the time Earl Howe, the Health Minister, said British medical students were choosing not to pursue a “pressurised” career in accident and emergency.