Press release

Tightening visa requirements for social care and health workers could be 'ruinous' to services, leaders warn

NHS Employers has urged the government to reject any proposals to restrict visa rules in health and care.

27 November 2023

The government needs to do more to attract overseas workers to the UK to plug gaps in health and social care in the wake of increased global demand for staff, a group of national leaders across social care and heath are warning.

The Cavendish Coalition, a group hosted by NHS Employers, said that assuming that foreign workers will come to work in the UK without their families would be “ruinous” to services and staffing plans.

It has urged the government to reject any proposals to restrict visa rules in health and care. 

The coalition originally issued its warning in a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in September, but has repeated its concerns amid reports that the Government is considering plans to restrict the number of dependents foreign health and social care workers can bring with them to the UK.

The Cavendish Coalition, which acts as a shared voice of employers, trade union and educators from social care and health, has said that social care and health services would not be able to function with a reduction to its international workforce, who account for 1 in 6 NHS staff in England, and 16 per cent across adult social care. 

If the present rules were tightened, national leaders are concerned this restriction will discourage workers from coming to the UK for employment in the future, causing an unfortunate “domino effect” on the care offered to families across the UK, including affecting treatment and referral times for patients where the elective care waiting list in England is now nearly 8 million. 

In April 2023, Huddersfield University published research which examined the experiences of international nurses and their initial integration into NHS. It showed that around two thirds (62.4%) of respondents were married, and just under half (49.7%) said they had children aged eighteen or under. However, around 71.4% of these respondents said they lived without their children in England. Some 94.0% of respondents with children aged eighteen or under said they would have liked their families to have travelled with them.

Over the years, social care and health leaders have welcomed the support offered by the government to the sector in accessing vital labour markets overseas. This remains the case for the NHS as it will take several years to grow the NHS’s domestic workforce and there is increasing competition globally.

Danny Mortimer, co-chair of the Cavendish Coalition and chief executive of the NHS Employers (part of the NHS Confederation) said: 

“The UK has always benefitted from hugely talented staff coming to work in social care and health from around the world and we remain hugely reliant on the contribution of these colleagues to care for the communities we serve. 

“That is why social care and health leaders will be extremely concerned about the news that the Government has plans to curb how many family members overseas social care and health workers can bring with them to the UK. As a country, we must do everything we can to make ourselves a more, not less, attractive destination for employment, especially in the midst of a continued vacancy crisis across our sector and in the absence of long-term plans for social care services. 

“With global demand of health workers set to rise to 80 million by 2030, we would urge the Government to halt these senseless proposals and protect recruitment into social care and health services.”

About us

We are the membership organisation that brings together, supports and speaks for the whole healthcare system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The members we represent employ 1.5 million staff, care for more than 1 million patients a day and control £150 billion of public expenditure. We promote collaboration and partnership working as the key to improving population health, delivering high-quality care and reducing health inequalities.