Migration rules need re-think - NHS boss

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Media captionThe move is part of the government's effort to control net migration, as Hugh Pym reports

A re-think of immigration rules which protect ballet dancers but not vital foreign nurses need re-thinking, the head of the NHS in England says.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens made the comments over a new pay threshold for non-European workers.

It means means migrants will have to leave the UK after six years if they are not earning at least £35,000.

Exemptions are in place for some, including ballet dancers, but not nurses.

The Royal College of Nursing has warned the rules would "cause chaos" for the NHS and waste money spent on recruitment.

The union has said that by 2017 more than 3,300 NHS nurses could be affected, and by the end of the decade the numbers could be double that.

Speaking at the Institute of Directors annual conference in London, Mr Stevens said: "We're having a national discussion about how to get immigration right.

"My responsibility is to point out that at time when the need for nurses is growing, when publicly funded UK nurse training places will take several years to expand, and when agency staff costs are driving hospital overspends right now, we need to better 'join up the dots' on immigration policy and the NHS.

"Most nurses I speak to struggle to understand why our immigration rules define ballet dancers as a shortage occupation - but not nursing.

"And most hospitals tell me that the idea that we would seriously consider deporting some of our most experienced and committed nurses solely because they're not earning £35,000 clearly needs a rethink."

The Home Office has said the rules are being introduced to reduce the demand for migrant labour and has said it is possible nurses could still be placed on the exemption list, which is for areas where there is a shortage of workers.

Although the government has so far argued the expansion in nurse training places should be enough to meet demand.

NHS Employers and the RCN have both welcomed Mr Stevens' comments.

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