Ministers are rapidly planning an overseas hiring spree to plug critical holes in the NHS and social care sector.
Steve Barclay, the health secretary, wants to bring in foreign staff “on a mass scale” as post-Brexit work restrictions lead to a massive shortage of workers.
According to Times reports, NHS managers may be sent to countries such as India and the Philippines to recruit thousands of nurses.
Barclay also wants to make it easier for regulators to check overseas qualifications so that staff can get to work more quickly.
There are 1.6 million staff in social care but more than 160,000 vacancies in a sector that is struggling as funding from local authorities falls.
Health service bosses are also warning that rising energy bills risk causing a “humanitarian crisis” among the vulnerable and want the chancellor to act so that hospitals are not overwhelmed by patients made sicker by having to choose between heating and eating.
A “request for information” being sent to potential suppliers by the Department of Health, seen by The Times, says: “International recruitment has been identified . . . as one solution to the shortfall in social care workers.”
A government source added that “ensuring the NHS and care have enough staff to cope with a challenging winter is an absolute priority and finding ways of boosting international recruitment, including through the health and care visa, is a key part of that.
“We’re open to any ideas to help, including an online support hub, but need to make sure they’ll work, and we need to do that now so that we can boost capacity ahead of the winter.”