The Immigration Skills Charge (ISC), which comes in to effect in April, will have a damaging effect on the NHS, the British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warn.

The charge means the NHS must pay £1,000 each year for any worker coming in to the UK from outside the European Union.

It is designed to encourage businesses to train British staff and reduce the number of migrant workers being hired by UK firms.

The BMA and RCN say the NHS should be exempt from paying the ISC when recruiting workers from outside the EU to fill gaps in an already-stretched workforce. They said the NHS will continue to be reliant on doctors from the EU and overseas because of the amount of time it takes to train a senior doctor.

BMA chairman, Dr Mark Porter, said: “The introduction of this charge could take desperately needed money from an already under-funded health service, worsen the current staffing issues, and impact the level of care that hospitals are able to provide to patients.

“Overseas staff can only be employed in the NHS if recruitment from the UK and EU has been unsuccessful. It is unthinkable that trusts should be penalised for trying to fill staff shortages from overseas, in order to maintain safe staffing levels and safe patient care.

“With the NHS already at breaking point, vital funding should not be diverted from frontline services in this way.

“In order to ensure stability for our health service, the Government must exempt the NHS and the wider health and social care system from these charges, as it has already agreed to do for other sectors.”

Janet Davies, General Secretary of the RCN, said:  “Forcing this charge on NHS and other services will worsen the funding crisis and harm the standard of patient care.

“Until the Government begins to train enough nurses here, it should exempt the international workforce that UK healthcare heavily relies on.”

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