Tag Archives: overseas

Government to relax immigration rules on overseas doctors

Thousands more overseas doctors will be able to come and work in the NHS after Theresa May heeded pleas from cabinet colleagues to scrap limits that hospital bosses had criticised as “absolutely barmy”.

The relaxation of immigration rules, which is due to be announced imminently, represents a victory for Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid and follows a vociferous campaign by NHS organisations and medical groups.

They have been arguing that medics should be taken out of the cap on skilled workers allowed to work in Britain, in order to help tackle the NHS’s deepening workforce crisis.

Hunt, the health and social care secretary, and Javid, the home secretary, have been privately lobbying the prime minister to ease restrictions that between November and April denied more than 2,300 doctors from outside the European Economic Area the chance to work in the NHS.

Under the current immigration system the number of non-EEA skilled workers of all sorts able to come and work in Britain on a tier-2 visa through a certificate of sponsorship is capped at 20,700 a year – a ceiling set by the Home Office.

However, the government has decided that the NHS’s need for more doctors is so great that they should be treated differently, well-placed sources have told the Guardian. The rethink should mean that doctors are no longer left unable to take up job offers from hospitals and GP surgeries because they cannot get a visa.

There will now be a separate system to decide which medics come.

Recent official figures show that the NHS in England alone is short of 9,982 doctors. Those refused tier-2 visas in recent months have included GPs, psychiatrists and cancer specialists, all of which have a significant number of vacancies.

Hospitals have said their inability to recruit doctors from outside the EEA would lead to patients facing longer waiting times for treatment and hit patient safety.

Andrew Foster, chief executive of the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS hospital trust recently condemned the “bonkers decision” to ban doctors whom the NHS desperately needed. “It’s absolutely barmy that one branch of government is trying to increase the capacity of the NHS and another branch is stopping it from doing so”, he said.

“Last year we got 60 doctors and we had no trouble with visas. This year, [during] the first two months we were denied all visas and in the latest round we have been successful in less than 10 cases out of the 100 [they had applied for].”

Hospitals have been unable to hire doctors they had identified as highly skilled and necessary recruits because the cap on the number of professionals given a visa has been reached in each of the last seven months.

The Home Office had made clear that if the rules were to change so they would operate differently in the third quarter of the year, which includes August, when newly-qualified young doctors start their NHS training, any relaxation of the policy had to be agreed by the end of this week.

It is unclear if nurses will also be taken out of the cap system. They are already classed as a shortage occupation by the Home Office’s migration advisory committee. As such some nurses have been deemed a greater priority than doctors in recent months when officials have been deciding who will get tier-2 visas.

Hunt has argued that doctors and nurses should be treated differently to other skilled migrants on a temporary basis, until increases in the numbers of homegrown staff he has instigated produce more British NHS staff.

“If reports that the cap will be lifted for doctors are true, it will be a welcome relief to trusts in addressing immediate staff shortages, to help ensure safe, high quality care,” said Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England.

“These visa restrictions have been a major obstacle to recruiting much-needed medical staff. For trusts it has resulted in unfilled vacancies, often filled by paying premium locum rates. For doctors, they may have given up on working in the NHS and decided to work in another country.”

Government to relax immigration rules on overseas doctors

Thousands more overseas doctors will be able to come and work in the NHS after Theresa May heeded pleas from cabinet colleagues to scrap limits that hospital bosses had criticised as “absolutely barmy”.

The relaxation of immigration rules, which is due to be announced imminently, represents a victory for Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid and follows a vociferous campaign by NHS organisations and medical groups.

They have been arguing that medics should be taken out of the cap on skilled workers allowed to work in Britain, in order to help tackle the NHS’s deepening workforce crisis.

Hunt, the health and social care secretary, and Javid, the home secretary, have been privately lobbying the prime minister to ease restrictions that between November and April denied more than 2,300 doctors from outside the European Economic Area the chance to work in the NHS.

Under the current immigration system the number of non-EEA skilled workers of all sorts able to come and work in Britain on a tier-2 visa through a certificate of sponsorship is capped at 20,700 a year – a ceiling set by the Home Office.

However, the government has decided that the NHS’s need for more doctors is so great that they should be treated differently, well-placed sources have told the Guardian. The rethink should mean that doctors are no longer left unable to take up job offers from hospitals and GP surgeries because they cannot get a visa.

There will now be a separate system to decide which medics come.

Recent official figures show that the NHS in England alone is short of 9,982 doctors. Those refused tier-2 visas in recent months have included GPs, psychiatrists and cancer specialists, all of which have a significant number of vacancies.

Hospitals have said their inability to recruit doctors from outside the EEA would lead to patients facing longer waiting times for treatment and hit patient safety.

Andrew Foster, chief executive of the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS hospital trust recently condemned the “bonkers decision” to ban doctors whom the NHS desperately needed. “It’s absolutely barmy that one branch of government is trying to increase the capacity of the NHS and another branch is stopping it from doing so”, he said.

“Last year we got 60 doctors and we had no trouble with visas. This year, [during] the first two months we were denied all visas and in the latest round we have been successful in less than 10 cases out of the 100 [they had applied for].”

Hospitals have been unable to hire doctors they had identified as highly skilled and necessary recruits because the cap on the number of professionals given a visa has been reached in each of the last seven months.

The Home Office had made clear that if the rules were to change so they would operate differently in the third quarter of the year, which includes August, when newly-qualified young doctors start their NHS training, any relaxation of the policy had to be agreed by the end of this week.

It is unclear if nurses will also be taken out of the cap system. They are already classed as a shortage occupation by the Home Office’s migration advisory committee. As such some nurses have been deemed a greater priority than doctors in recent months when officials have been deciding who will get tier-2 visas.

Hunt has argued that doctors and nurses should be treated differently to other skilled migrants on a temporary basis, until increases in the numbers of homegrown staff he has instigated produce more British NHS staff.

“If reports that the cap will be lifted for doctors are true, it will be a welcome relief to trusts in addressing immediate staff shortages, to help ensure safe, high quality care,” said Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England.

“These visa restrictions have been a major obstacle to recruiting much-needed medical staff. For trusts it has resulted in unfilled vacancies, often filled by paying premium locum rates. For doctors, they may have given up on working in the NHS and decided to work in another country.”

Government to relax immigration rules on overseas doctors

Thousands more overseas doctors will be able to come and work in the NHS after Theresa May heeded pleas from cabinet colleagues to scrap limits that hospital bosses had criticised as “absolutely barmy”.

The relaxation of immigration rules, which is due to be announced imminently, represents a victory for Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid and follows a vociferous campaign by NHS organisations and medical groups.

They have been arguing that medics should be taken out of the cap on skilled workers allowed to work in Britain, in order to help tackle the NHS’s deepening workforce crisis.

Hunt, the health and social care secretary, and Javid, the home secretary, have been privately lobbying the prime minister to ease restrictions that between November and April denied more than 2,300 doctors from outside the European Economic Area the chance to work in the NHS.

Under the current immigration system the number of non-EEA skilled workers of all sorts able to come and work in Britain on a tier-2 visa through a certificate of sponsorship is capped at 20,700 a year – a ceiling set by the Home Office.

However, the government has decided that the NHS’s need for more doctors is so great that they should be treated differently, well-placed sources have told the Guardian. The rethink should mean that doctors are no longer left unable to take up job offers from hospitals and GP surgeries because they cannot get a visa.

There will now be a separate system to decide which medics come.

Recent official figures show that the NHS in England alone is short of 9,982 doctors. Those refused tier-2 visas in recent months have included GPs, psychiatrists and cancer specialists, all of which have a significant number of vacancies.

Hospitals have said their inability to recruit doctors from outside the EEA would lead to patients facing longer waiting times for treatment and hit patient safety.

Andrew Foster, chief executive of the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS hospital trust recently condemned the “bonkers decision” to ban doctors whom the NHS desperately needed. “It’s absolutely barmy that one branch of government is trying to increase the capacity of the NHS and another branch is stopping it from doing so”, he said.

“Last year we got 60 doctors and we had no trouble with visas. This year, [during] the first two months we were denied all visas and in the latest round we have been successful in less than 10 cases out of the 100 [they had applied for].”

Hospitals have been unable to hire doctors they had identified as highly skilled and necessary recruits because the cap on the number of professionals given a visa has been reached in each of the last seven months.

The Home Office had made clear that if the rules were to change so they would operate differently in the third quarter of the year, which includes August, when newly-qualified young doctors start their NHS training, any relaxation of the policy had to be agreed by the end of this week.

It is unclear if nurses will also be taken out of the cap system. They are already classed as a shortage occupation by the Home Office’s migration advisory committee. As such some nurses have been deemed a greater priority than doctors in recent months when officials have been deciding who will get tier-2 visas.

Hunt has argued that doctors and nurses should be treated differently to other skilled migrants on a temporary basis, until increases in the numbers of homegrown staff he has instigated produce more British NHS staff.

“If reports that the cap will be lifted for doctors are true, it will be a welcome relief to trusts in addressing immediate staff shortages, to help ensure safe, high quality care,” said Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England.

“These visa restrictions have been a major obstacle to recruiting much-needed medical staff. For trusts it has resulted in unfilled vacancies, often filled by paying premium locum rates. For doctors, they may have given up on working in the NHS and decided to work in another country.”

Government to relax immigration rules on overseas doctors

Thousands more overseas doctors will be able to come and work in the NHS after Theresa May heeded pleas from cabinet colleagues to scrap limits that hospital bosses had criticised as “absolutely barmy”.

The relaxation of immigration rules, which is due to be announced imminently, represents a victory for Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid and follows a vociferous campaign by NHS organisations and medical groups.

They have been arguing that medics should be taken out of the cap on skilled workers allowed to work in Britain, in order to help tackle the NHS’s deepening workforce crisis.

Hunt, the health and social care secretary, and Javid, the home secretary, have been privately lobbying the prime minister to ease restrictions that between November and April denied more than 2,300 doctors from outside the European Economic Area the chance to work in the NHS.

Under the current immigration system the number of non-EEA skilled workers of all sorts able to come and work in Britain on a tier-2 visa through a certificate of sponsorship is capped at 20,700 a year – a ceiling set by the Home Office.

However, the government has decided that the NHS’s need for more doctors is so great that they should be treated differently, well-placed sources have told the Guardian. The rethink should mean that doctors are no longer left unable to take up job offers from hospitals and GP surgeries because they cannot get a visa.

There will now be a separate system to decide which medics come.

Recent official figures show that the NHS in England alone is short of 9,982 doctors. Those refused tier-2 visas in recent months have included GPs, psychiatrists and cancer specialists, all of which have a significant number of vacancies.

Hospitals have said their inability to recruit doctors from outside the EEA would lead to patients facing longer waiting times for treatment and hit patient safety.

Andrew Foster, chief executive of the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS hospital trust recently condemned the “bonkers decision” to ban doctors whom the NHS desperately needed. “It’s absolutely barmy that one branch of government is trying to increase the capacity of the NHS and another branch is stopping it from doing so”, he said.

“Last year we got 60 doctors and we had no trouble with visas. This year, [during] the first two months we were denied all visas and in the latest round we have been successful in less than 10 cases out of the 100 [they had applied for].”

Hospitals have been unable to hire doctors they had identified as highly skilled and necessary recruits because the cap on the number of professionals given a visa has been reached in each of the last seven months.

The Home Office had made clear that if the rules were to change so they would operate differently in the third quarter of the year, which includes August, when newly-qualified young doctors start their NHS training, any relaxation of the policy had to be agreed by the end of this week.

It is unclear if nurses will also be taken out of the cap system. They are already classed as a shortage occupation by the Home Office’s migration advisory committee. As such some nurses have been deemed a greater priority than doctors in recent months when officials have been deciding who will get tier-2 visas.

Hunt has argued that doctors and nurses should be treated differently to other skilled migrants on a temporary basis, until increases in the numbers of homegrown staff he has instigated produce more British NHS staff.

“If reports that the cap will be lifted for doctors are true, it will be a welcome relief to trusts in addressing immediate staff shortages, to help ensure safe, high quality care,” said Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England.

“These visa restrictions have been a major obstacle to recruiting much-needed medical staff. For trusts it has resulted in unfilled vacancies, often filled by paying premium locum rates. For doctors, they may have given up on working in the NHS and decided to work in another country.”

Government to relax immigration rules on overseas doctors

Thousands more overseas doctors will be able to come and work in the NHS after Theresa May heeded pleas from cabinet colleagues to scrap limits that hospital bosses had criticised as “absolutely barmy”.

The relaxation of immigration rules, which is due to be announced imminently, represents a victory for Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid and follows a vociferous campaign by NHS organisations and medical groups.

They have been arguing that medics should be taken out of the cap on skilled workers allowed to work in Britain, in order to help tackle the NHS’s deepening workforce crisis.

Hunt, the health and social care secretary, and Javid, the home secretary, have been privately lobbying the prime minister to ease restrictions that between November and April denied more than 2,300 doctors from outside the European Economic Area the chance to work in the NHS.

Under the current immigration system the number of non-EEA skilled workers of all sorts able to come and work in Britain on a tier-2 visa through a certificate of sponsorship is capped at 20,700 a year – a ceiling set by the Home Office.

However, the government has decided that the NHS’s need for more doctors is so great that they should be treated differently, well-placed sources have told the Guardian. The rethink should mean that doctors are no longer left unable to take up job offers from hospitals and GP surgeries because they cannot get a visa.

There will now be a separate system to decide which medics come.

Recent official figures show that the NHS in England alone is short of 9,982 doctors. Those refused tier-2 visas in recent months have included GPs, psychiatrists and cancer specialists, all of which have a significant number of vacancies.

Hospitals have said their inability to recruit doctors from outside the EEA would lead to patients facing longer waiting times for treatment and hit patient safety.

Andrew Foster, chief executive of the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS hospital trust recently condemned the “bonkers decision” to ban doctors whom the NHS desperately needed. “It’s absolutely barmy that one branch of government is trying to increase the capacity of the NHS and another branch is stopping it from doing so”, he said.

“Last year we got 60 doctors and we had no trouble with visas. This year, [during] the first two months we were denied all visas and in the latest round we have been successful in less than 10 cases out of the 100 [they had applied for].”

Hospitals have been unable to hire doctors they had identified as highly skilled and necessary recruits because the cap on the number of professionals given a visa has been reached in each of the last seven months.

The Home Office had made clear that if the rules were to change so they would operate differently in the third quarter of the year, which includes August, when newly-qualified young doctors start their NHS training, any relaxation of the policy had to be agreed by the end of this week.

It is unclear if nurses will also be taken out of the cap system. They are already classed as a shortage occupation by the Home Office’s migration advisory committee. As such some nurses have been deemed a greater priority than doctors in recent months when officials have been deciding who will get tier-2 visas.

Hunt has argued that doctors and nurses should be treated differently to other skilled migrants on a temporary basis, until increases in the numbers of homegrown staff he has instigated produce more British NHS staff.

“If reports that the cap will be lifted for doctors are true, it will be a welcome relief to trusts in addressing immediate staff shortages, to help ensure safe, high quality care,” said Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England.

“These visa restrictions have been a major obstacle to recruiting much-needed medical staff. For trusts it has resulted in unfilled vacancies, often filled by paying premium locum rates. For doctors, they may have given up on working in the NHS and decided to work in another country.”

Revealed: the overseas anti-abortion activists using Facebook to target Irish voters

Facebook users had an accidental glimpse of the international scope of campaigning in Ireland’s historic abortion referendum – set for 25 May – which has intensified concern about foreign influence on the vote.

For a brief period last Friday, a new tool designed to boost transparency around elections enabled users to see the real-life location of people who were managing Facebook campaign pages. Activists collected a snapshot of posts from 180 groups that were targeting Irish voters, before the social media giant turned off the location tool, saying it had been “mistakenly launched”.

This evidence showed that a significant proportion of posts aimed at influencing voters came from pages managed partly or entirely outside Ireland. Even some groups registered with Ireland’s ethics watchdog, the Standards In Public Office Commission (Sipo), had Facebook pages managed from abroad.

Foreign influence seemed particularly strong in messages urging Irish voters not to overturn the country’s near-total ban on terminating pregnancies. Ireland is the only western democracy with such strict rules, and the upcoming vote has drawn worldwide attention from opponents of abortion rights. The referendum will ask voters whether they want to repeal article 40.3.3 – known as the eighth amendment – which enshrined a ban on abortion in the Irish constitution in 1983.

The Yes campaign is in the lead, but polls have been tightening recently, and the 20% of Irish voters who say they are still undecided are thought to hold the key to the referendum result.

Analysis of the posts, by social media news agency Storyful, found that only a third of advertisements urging a No vote – which would preserve the strict abortion law – came from Facebook pages managed solely in Ireland. In contrast, four-fifths of posts urging repeal of the amendment came from pages which had no foreign-based managers.

The anti-abortion pages that had at least some foreign managers included those of some influential groups campaigning for Ireland to keep its abortion ban. One had listed managers, of whom some were based in the UK, some in Hungary and others in unidentified countries.

The data also showed that posts supporting a No vote were more likely to have come from organisations that were not registered with Ireland’s ethics watchdog.

Facebook did not give details of how it identifies location, so some of the managers listed as overseas could be Irish citizens on a temporary trip, or who had previously lived abroad, or used virtual private networks (VPNs) that made them appear to be out of the country.

Demonstrators at a rally this month opposing the repeal of Ireland’s near-total ban on pregnancy terminations.


Demonstrators at a rally this month opposing the repeal of Ireland’s near-total ban on pregnancy terminations. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

The brief revelation gave further insights into how much important data Facebook holds – but has chosen to keep secret – about election campaigning and advertising. These are areas that all democracies have traditionally monitored to ensure that votes are free and fair.

“This is another window into some of the information [social media] platforms hold, and it’s the kind of information that should be made available,” said Liz Carolan of the Transparent Referendum Initiative, which created the database of ads. “Let us know what’s going on, then we can regulate this as a country.”

Her group does not take a position on the referendum result, but wants to make sure that voters have a clear vision of who is campaigning and how they are paying for it.

They had earlier exposed the role of foreign groups in paying for social media ads that were visible only to the target group – using a legal loophole to join the campaign from perhaps thousands of miles away. Irish law prohibits political donations by foreign nationals, but the legislation does not cover digital advertising, which meant foreigners could fund ads from the first week of campaigning.

One group that paid for ads aimed at Irish voters was US group EMC FrontLine Pregnancy Centers, which claims on its website to “rescue moms and babies”. In January it was fined by New York City authorities for misleading women about their healthcare options. Another is Toronto-based LifeSiteNews, whose headlines include: “Social media uses #fakenews and Stalinist efforts to help repeal Ireland’s pro-life 8th amendment”. Neither group responded to the Observer’s requests for information.

Concerns about foreign influence have prompted Google to ban all online advertising connected to the referendum, and Facebook to limit ad sales to organisations based in Ireland. Facebook also promised to let users see all political ads running on the site in real time.

Google’s ban in particular has been attacked by anti-abortion groups, who insist they face bias from traditional media and need social media to combat it. David Quinn of Catholic thinktank the Iona institute tweeted last week: “Of course mainstream media dislike social media advertising by pro-lifers. Such ads are a way of doing an end-run around media bias.Google are worried that the Yes side would blame them if they lose [the referendum]. Obviously they couldn’t care less if it has the opposite effect. That alone shows terrible bias.”

Revealed: the overseas anti-abortion activists using Facebook to target Irish voters

Facebook users had an accidental glimpse of the international scope of campaigning in Ireland’s historic abortion referendum – set for 25 May – which has intensified concern about foreign influence on the vote.

For a brief period last Friday, a new tool designed to boost transparency around elections enabled users to see the real-life location of people who were managing Facebook campaign pages. Activists collected a snapshot of posts from 180 groups that were targeting Irish voters, before the social media giant turned off the location tool, saying it had been “mistakenly launched”.

This evidence showed that a significant proportion of posts aimed at influencing voters came from pages managed partly or entirely outside Ireland. Even some groups registered with Ireland’s ethics watchdog, the Standards In Public Office Commission (Sipo), had Facebook pages managed from abroad.

Foreign influence seemed particularly strong in messages urging Irish voters not to overturn the country’s near-total ban on terminating pregnancies. Ireland is the only western democracy with such strict rules, and the upcoming vote has drawn worldwide attention from opponents of abortion rights. The referendum will ask voters whether they want to repeal article 40.3.3 – known as the eighth amendment – which enshrined a ban on abortion in the Irish constitution in 1983.

The Yes campaign is in the lead, but polls have been tightening recently, and the 20% of Irish voters who say they are still undecided are thought to hold the key to the referendum result.

Analysis of the posts, by social media news agency Storyful, found that only a third of advertisements urging a No vote – which would preserve the strict abortion law – came from Facebook pages managed solely in Ireland. In contrast, four-fifths of posts urging repeal of the amendment came from pages which had no foreign-based managers.

The anti-abortion pages that had at least some foreign managers included those of some influential groups campaigning for Ireland to keep its abortion ban. One had listed managers, of whom some were based in the UK, some in Hungary and others in unidentified countries.

The data also showed that posts supporting a No vote were more likely to have come from organisations that were not registered with Ireland’s ethics watchdog.

Facebook did not give details of how it identifies location, so some of the managers listed as overseas could be Irish citizens on a temporary trip, or who had previously lived abroad, or used virtual private networks (VPNs) that made them appear to be out of the country.

Demonstrators at a rally this month opposing the repeal of Ireland’s near-total ban on pregnancy terminations.


Demonstrators at a rally this month opposing the repeal of Ireland’s near-total ban on pregnancy terminations. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

The brief revelation gave further insights into how much important data Facebook holds – but has chosen to keep secret – about election campaigning and advertising. These are areas that all democracies have traditionally monitored to ensure that votes are free and fair.

“This is another window into some of the information [social media] platforms hold, and it’s the kind of information that should be made available,” said Liz Carolan of the Transparent Referendum Initiative, which created the database of ads. “Let us know what’s going on, then we can regulate this as a country.”

Her group does not take a position on the referendum result, but wants to make sure that voters have a clear vision of who is campaigning and how they are paying for it.

They had earlier exposed the role of foreign groups in paying for social media ads that were visible only to the target group – using a legal loophole to join the campaign from perhaps thousands of miles away. Irish law prohibits political donations by foreign nationals, but the legislation does not cover digital advertising, which meant foreigners could fund ads from the first week of campaigning.

One group that paid for ads aimed at Irish voters was US group EMC FrontLine Pregnancy Centers, which claims on its website to “rescue moms and babies”. In January it was fined by New York City authorities for misleading women about their healthcare options. Another is Toronto-based LifeSiteNews, whose headlines include: “Social media uses #fakenews and Stalinist efforts to help repeal Ireland’s pro-life 8th amendment”. Neither group responded to the Observer’s requests for information.

Concerns about foreign influence have prompted Google to ban all online advertising connected to the referendum, and Facebook to limit ad sales to organisations based in Ireland. Facebook also promised to let users see all political ads running on the site in real time.

Google’s ban in particular has been attacked by anti-abortion groups, who insist they face bias from traditional media and need social media to combat it. David Quinn of Catholic thinktank the Iona institute tweeted last week: “Of course mainstream media dislike social media advertising by pro-lifers. Such ads are a way of doing an end-run around media bias.Google are worried that the Yes side would blame them if they lose [the referendum]. Obviously they couldn’t care less if it has the opposite effect. That alone shows terrible bias.”

Revealed: the overseas anti-abortion activists using Facebook to target Irish voters

Facebook users had an accidental glimpse of the international scope of campaigning in Ireland’s historic abortion referendum – set for 25 May – which has intensified concern about foreign influence on the vote.

For a brief period last Friday, a new tool designed to boost transparency around elections enabled users to see the real-life location of people who were managing Facebook campaign pages. Activists collected a snapshot of posts from 180 groups that were targeting Irish voters, before the social media giant turned off the location tool, saying it had been “mistakenly launched”.

This evidence showed that a significant proportion of posts aimed at influencing voters came from pages managed partly or entirely outside Ireland. Even some groups registered with Ireland’s ethics watchdog, the Standards In Public Office Commission (Sipo), had Facebook pages managed from abroad.

Foreign influence seemed particularly strong in messages urging Irish voters not to overturn the country’s near-total ban on terminating pregnancies. Ireland is the only western democracy with such strict rules, and the upcoming vote has drawn worldwide attention from opponents of abortion rights. The referendum will ask voters whether they want to repeal article 40.3.3 – known as the eighth amendment – which enshrined a ban on abortion in the Irish constitution in 1983.

The Yes campaign is in the lead, but polls have been tightening recently, and the 20% of Irish voters who say they are still undecided are thought to hold the key to the referendum result.

Analysis of the posts, by social media news agency Storyful, found that only a third of advertisements urging a No vote – which would preserve the strict abortion law – came from Facebook pages managed solely in Ireland. In contrast, four-fifths of posts urging repeal of the amendment came from pages which had no foreign-based managers.

The anti-abortion pages that had at least some foreign managers included those of some influential groups campaigning for Ireland to keep its abortion ban. One had listed managers, of whom some were based in the UK, some in Hungary and others in unidentified countries.

The data also showed that posts supporting a No vote were more likely to have come from organisations that were not registered with Ireland’s ethics watchdog.

Facebook did not give details of how it identifies location, so some of the managers listed as overseas could be Irish citizens on a temporary trip, or who had previously lived abroad, or used virtual private networks (VPNs) that made them appear to be out of the country.

Demonstrators at a rally this month opposing the repeal of Ireland’s near-total ban on pregnancy terminations.


Demonstrators at a rally this month opposing the repeal of Ireland’s near-total ban on pregnancy terminations. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

The brief revelation gave further insights into how much important data Facebook holds – but has chosen to keep secret – about election campaigning and advertising. These are areas that all democracies have traditionally monitored to ensure that votes are free and fair.

“This is another window into some of the information [social media] platforms hold, and it’s the kind of information that should be made available,” said Liz Carolan of the Transparent Referendum Initiative, which created the database of ads. “Let us know what’s going on, then we can regulate this as a country.”

Her group does not take a position on the referendum result, but wants to make sure that voters have a clear vision of who is campaigning and how they are paying for it.

They had earlier exposed the role of foreign groups in paying for social media ads that were visible only to the target group – using a legal loophole to join the campaign from perhaps thousands of miles away. Irish law prohibits political donations by foreign nationals, but the legislation does not cover digital advertising, which meant foreigners could fund ads from the first week of campaigning.

One group that paid for ads aimed at Irish voters was US group EMC FrontLine Pregnancy Centers, which claims on its website to “rescue moms and babies”. In January it was fined by New York City authorities for misleading women about their healthcare options. Another is Toronto-based LifeSiteNews, whose headlines include: “Social media uses #fakenews and Stalinist efforts to help repeal Ireland’s pro-life 8th amendment”. Neither group responded to the Observer’s requests for information.

Concerns about foreign influence have prompted Google to ban all online advertising connected to the referendum, and Facebook to limit ad sales to organisations based in Ireland. Facebook also promised to let users see all political ads running on the site in real time.

Google’s ban in particular has been attacked by anti-abortion groups, who insist they face bias from traditional media and need social media to combat it. David Quinn of Catholic thinktank the Iona institute tweeted last week: “Of course mainstream media dislike social media advertising by pro-lifers. Such ads are a way of doing an end-run around media bias.Google are worried that the Yes side would blame them if they lose [the referendum]. Obviously they couldn’t care less if it has the opposite effect. That alone shows terrible bias.”

Theresa May ‘blocking requests’ to allow in more overseas doctors for NHS

Downing Street has insisted it stands by the government’s strict immigration regime, after Theresa May was accused of blocking requests to allow more overseas doctors to come to Britain to fill staff shortages in the NHS.

The Evening Standard reported on Tuesday that at least three government departments – including the Home Office – had urged Downing Street to lift visa quotas temporarily. May turned down the requests.

Up to 100 Indian doctors have reportedly had their applications for tier 2 visas turned down. These are offered to skilled workers from outside the EU with a job offer in Britain; but the number available is limited.

Danny Mortimer, the chief executive of NHS Employers, told the BBC recently he had heard of hundreds of doctors being refused visas – and the shortage was affecting patient care.

Asked about the Standard story, the prime minister’s official spokesman told journalists: “It remains essential we have control of the immigration system and it works in the national interest.”

He added: “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 visas go to the NHS and investing in our workforce will continue to be a top priority.”

Asked if the prime minister had personally vetoed the attempts, he said: “As for formulation of government policy, that’s not something I’d discuss.”

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has boosted medical training places to help meet the need for more staff, with Brexit looming, but NHS managers have warned that they face a short-term staffing crisis.

The prime minister’s involvement in enforcing a tough immigration policy is likely to reignite concerns over whether the government’s target of reducing net migration is having damaging knock-on effects.

Sajid Javid replaced Amber Rudd after she resigned on Sunday night over the Windrush scandal. He told MPs on Monday he disliked the phrase “hostile environment” used to describe policies aimed at making life difficult for illegal immigrants.

Sunder Katwala, of the thinktank British Future, said: “Javid should seek to shift policy in areas where Theresa May’s views are considerably more hardline than the public’s. He could start by ending the bizarre policy of turning down visas for Indian doctors whose skills are desperately needed by NHS trusts trying to cut waiting lists.

The Labour MP Preet Gill has written to the home secretary, calling on him to relax the cap on tier 2 visas for doctors.

“Without adequate staffing levels, the NHS cannot deliver the timely and quality care that patients are entitled to. Therefore, I entirely fail to understand why the government is content with an immigration policy that is actively preventing the NHS from filling vacant doctor posts,” she said.

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said the news was fresh evidence of the impact of May’s immigration policies.

Diane Abbott (@HackneyAbbott)

This is where Theresa May’s hostile environment leads. And will continue until the policy is scrapped. pic.twitter.com/FqOjqBCKWH

May 1, 2018

UK patients ‘suffering as they cannot afford assisted dying overseas’

Thousands of terminally ill people who want to travel abroad to end their life in specialist clinics can not afford the costs of doing so, leaving them to face often “painful and traumatic deaths at home”, according to a new report.

The study by the campaign group Dignity in Dying says the UK is outsourcing death to Dignitas – the assisted dying organisation in Switzerland – which only the better off can afford.

The study found that while more than half of Britons would consider travelling to abroad for an assisted death, only a quarter said they could afford the average £10,000 cost.

Sarah Wootton, the chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said the study “exposes the unacceptable reality that is faced by so many dying people in this country.

“By denying terminally ill people the option of an assisted death at home, we are not solving the problem, just outsourcing it to Switzerland – and dying people and their families are the ones paying the price.”

Assisted dying is illegal in the UK and Wootton said terminally ill people are spending their final months “overwhelmed by paperwork [and] being made to feel like criminals”.

She added: “Those that are unable to obtain an assisted death overseas can end up suffering painful and traumatic deaths at home or taking drastic measures to end their own lives. This is not how a civilised country should treat its dying citizens.”

The report is based on polling and in-depth interviews with three groups of people: those with a terminal illness who are considering an assisted death in Switzerland; those who have helped a loved one to have an assisted death in Switzerland; and those whose loved one considered an assisted death in Switzerland but died in the UK.

It found that those without enough money or family and friends to support them were unable to make the tip to assisted dying clinics.

Emil Prysak, 30, from London, said his mother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which spread throughout her body. She initially ruled out Dignitas because of the cost involved, but later regretted it due to the pain and suffering she experienced at the end of her life.

Prysak said: “Because of the complexity of her illness, my mum was suffering all the way to the end … She was looking at us, saying ‘Why can I not die? If I had known it was going to be like this I would have gone to Switzerland’ … My mum didn’t want that suffering and that’s haunting me. It will haunt me to the end of my life.”

Caroline Villar, 39 from County Down, was also interviewed. She said when her mother, Margaret, received a terminal diagnosis of cancer, she considered an assisted death in Switzerland but feared the legal implications for her family if they helped her. She ended up dying in pain at home in Northern Ireland.

Villar said: “I think most people believe that modern medicine will stop you suffering, but my mum was crying out for painkillers at the end, and they couldn’t increase the dose because they said if they gave her any more, it would push her over into death. We were all happy for that to happen, to finally end her suffering, but they couldn’t do it.”

Kit Malthouse, the Conservative MP for North West Hampshire, wrote in a foreword for the report that it “shines a light where too few policy makers are willing to look.”

“We must ask whether these terrible experiences can truly be justified by a false dichotomy between dominion over our lives and protection of the vulnerable, a premise long-disproved,” he said.

“The evidence that we need change is overwhelming. It’s time that the UK stopped outsourcing its compassion and began listening to dying people who want and need the most basic choice they will ever face.”