NURSES’ leaders have said the UK’s immigration system is failing patients and nurses and say they want a fairer approach to ensure the country remains attractive for medical staff from around the world.

The call came from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) as the Tory party set out its changes to the immigration system for nurses and doctors, including maintaining the health surcharge but reducing the visa application fee.

According to the RCN, the sustained failure to grow enough domestic nurses has left all four nations of the UK with nursing shortages and put patient care at risk.

It said staff from overseas have become key in ensuring services can continue to run, although over-reliance on an international workforce is not sustainable in the longer term.

The RCN has warned the next government that it must build an immigration system that prioritises the needs of the growing population across health and care, not arbitrary political pledges. It said the current immigration system is failing patients and nursing staff from overseas.

In a submission to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the RCN calls for the “purposefully hostile environment and culture” to be “brought to an urgent end before our nursing shortage crisis is made worse”.

All parties are being asked by the RCN to pledge to replace the salary threshold of £30,000, with recognition of occupations of high public value, scrap the immigration health surcharge and overhaul the costly application processes that leave nurses from outside the EU thousands of pounds out of pocket. Nurses are exempt from the salary threshold, but the RCN is calling for it to be replaced entirely.

The RCN’s General Election manifesto called on party leaders to tackle workforce shortages across the UK by securing and extending safe staffing legislation – which already exists in Scotland and Wales.

RCN chief executive and general secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair, said the failure to grow enough of our own nursing staff had left services in the UK with shortages and patients were paying the price. She added: “Proposals announced by the Conservative Party might bring positive headlines today, but we are clear that much more must be done to make the immigration system work for patients and the nursing staff from overseas who want to come and fill the workforce gaps of our own creation.

“It is a particular disgrace that nursing staff from outside Europe, who already pay tax and national insurance, must fork out again to use the very NHS that they help to keep running – this is none other than a tax on nursing.”