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Cambridge MP in fresh blast at visa quotas

By Gemma Gardner

Consultant Anna Conway Morris Picture: Keith Heppell
Consultant Anna Conway Morris Picture: Keith Heppell

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner has called for the government to abolish its cap on visas for skilled, non-European workers which risks plunging the NHS into a staffing crisis.

The UK’s monthly quota for tier-2 work visas was reached in December and January for the first time in seven years and then again this month.

Cambridge-based consultant psychiatrist Anna Conway Morris, programme director for child psychiatryfor the East of England, explained that the cap has prevented her from recruiting an Indian-born psychiatrist to a vacancy in Peterborough. There were no UK-based applicants for the post, which had been vacant for a year, she said.

“We really need her,” said Dr Conway Morris. “There is a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists, even worse in child psychiatry and, because of Brexit, EU citizens don’t want to come here,” she told the Cambridge Independent.

She continued: “I can’t fill the vacancy with anyone else because it has been allocated to her, and she can’t take it up. It creates a lot of problems.

“For the whole of child psychiatry in Cambridgeshire, we have a waiting list of more than six months. Most people are assessed within three months but there’s a delay for treatment because we don’t have enough therapists.”

Dr Conway Morris said departments are forced to rely on costly locum doctors to cover gaps in the rota, but this isn’t always possible and places “huge pressure” on other members of the team.

“It’s just absurd,” she said.

In the summer, Dr Conway Morris will have four more vacancies.

The registrar psychiatrist who accepted the post also found herself out of pocket financially after losing a deposit paid on a property before learning of the Home Office decision.

“It was so overwhelming, and nobody knew what to do,” said the applicant, who asked not to be named.

The successful candidate, who has previously worked in the NHS, was offered the position after a rigorous interview process during which she achieved a “really good recruitment score”.

“It’s a problem they are unable to find a solution for because of this arbitrary cap,” she said. “If you don’t get through an exam, or you don’t get through an interview, you can tell yourself that you needed to be better at what you’re doing, you look for that improvement. But this puts me in a place where I don’t know what else I could do.”

She continued: “It isn’t just another job for me. I’ve been very passionate about working in this field and I have done my initial training but there aren’t many opportunities to learn from the best, which I could have here.

“I don’t know what it takes for them [the government] to reconsider this [the cap] but if they don’t it’s really going to cause massive chaos on the NHS.”

On Monday, Labour MP Mr Zeichner pressed immigration minister Caroline Noakes on the issue.

She responded: “Well I’d like to reassure the honourable gentleman that no range of medical professionals that are on the shortage occupation list have been refused a visa.”

Ms Noakes said she would keep the issue under review to “carefully make sure that we recruit more doctors and more nurses within the UK”.

The visa cap on skilled worker numbers operates on an annual quota of 20,700 with a fixed number of spaces available each month.


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