Author: Andrew Gregory
Theresa May was embroiled in a “toxic” immigration scandal today over claims she blocked the NHS from hiring doctors.
The Prime Minister was already facing enormous pressure over the Windrush fiasco and her “hostile environment” immigration strategy.
But she was plunged into a new row after overruling Cabinet ministers who begged for more foreign medics to tackle the staffing crisis.
Jeremy Hunt, Greg Clark and Amber Rudd – who resigned on Sunday – had all urged the PM to lift visa quotas temporarily.
Mrs May turned down their requests.
The PM’s “astounding” hardline stance over visa rules is now hampering the ability of the NHS to recruit doctors, critics warned.
Several NHS hospitals have gone public about fears that patient safety is being put at risk by medic shortages.
Understaffed hospitals are being forced to pay premium rates for locum doctors because immigration rules are preventing doctors from overseas coming to Britain to work.
Limits on the number of visas issued to doctors from countries outside the European Economic Area are contributing to rota gaps and delays in patients receiving care.
There have been at least 400 cases of blocked visas since December.
But a Whitehall source told the Evening Standard that Mrs May “absolutely refused to budge” when asked to lift the cap.
Health Secretary Mr Hunt and former Home Secretary Ms Rudd urged Mrs May to lift the quota for special cases such as NHS doctors. At the same time Business Secretary Mr Clark pressed the PM for more exceptions to help firms cope with specialist skills shortages.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott MP said the revelation was fresh evidence of the devastating impact of Mrs May’s immigration policies. She said: “This is where Theresa May’s hostile environment leads. And will continue until the policy is scrapped.”
She added: “The Tories’ hostile environment policy is not confined to illegal immigrants. And it is making us all worse off.”
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP said: “It makes no sense whatsoever that the Government is turning away trained doctors who want to come and work here in the UK.
“Theresa May’s hostile environment policy is now directly damaging NHS patient care.”
And SNP Home Affairs spokesperson Joanna Cherry QC MP said Mrs May’s “toxic” anti-immigrant policies were now “actively damaging the UK”.
She said: “Theresa May’s toxic anti-immigrant obsession is actively damaging the UK – by getting in the way of the vital needs of our public services, businesses, and the economy.
“The Windrush scandal was just the tip of the iceberg, as more evidence emerges of the harmful impact that the Tory government’s arbitrary and xenophobic policies are having on us all.
“It is astounding that the Prime Minister is so fixated on immigrants that she is overruling her own Cabinet minister’s pleas and sidelining the needs of our NHS and economy – putting patients at risk, and leaving the whole country poorer and worse off.”
She added: “The UK government must now undertake a root and branch review of UK immigration policy, scrap their damaging arbitrary net migration targets, end the hostile environment approach, and instead back a sensible, evidence-based immigration policy that recognises the huge benefits to our economy and society.”
Last week workforce policy adviser at NHS Providers Paul Myatt had warned of the problems sparked by the visa rules.
He said: “It’s deeply frustrating for trusts and doctors that when a job offer has been made, after considerable time and expense, trusts are repeatedly being declined the certificates of sponsorship needed for doctors to get work visas.”
The Whitehall source said: “I think Jeremy and Amber were on the same page on this but No 10 were in a different place entirely.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman defended the Tier 2 visa regime and stressed it was always closely monitored.
The spokesman said: “It remains essential that we have control in our immigration system and it works in the national interest.
“We are monitoring the situation in relation to visa applications for doctors, including the monthly limits through the Tier 2 visa route.
“Around one third of all Tier 2 places go to the NHS and investing in our workforce will continue to be a top priority.”
But the spokesman did not deny the reports that Mrs May had overruled three Cabinet ministers.
Asked if the PM had personally blocked their please, the spokesman said: “As for formulation of government policy, that’s not something I’d discuss.”
Sajid Javid used his first day as Home Secretary on Monday to savage Mrs May’s “hostile environment” policy.
Asked about the “hostile environment” approach, Mr Javid said: “I think it is a phrase that is unhelpful and it does not represent our values as a country.”