Immigration policy is making it impossible for foreign doctors to come to Britain, health officials have warned.
100 Indian doctors were recently refused entry because that month’s cap for the number of visas awarded to non-EU workers had been reached.
The doctors were all part of a scheme allowing foreign medics to complete their training while working within the NHS.
The heads of the 35 NHS trusts affected by the decision have written to health secretary, Jeremry Hunt and home secretary, Amber Rudd urging them to overturn the decision.
They say the current system makes it harder for the NHS to recruit doctors, resulting in staff shortages, added pressure on existing employees and risks to patients.
The letter said: “As we reach the end of winter where the NHS has been stretched to its very limits, partly because of a lack of workforce, we find it almost impossible to understand how this decision can have been reached.”
Dr Sanjay Arya, medical director at the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh trust, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the visa refusals would have a “huge impact on patient care and on patients’ safety”.
He added: “I see it every day that there are gaps on the rota. The existing doctors are working long hours, which is very tiring and makes them an unsafe doctor. If we had the pool of highly qualified doctors coming from overseas, it is only going to help our patients and our NHS.”
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said that he had heard of 400 further cases of overseas doctors having their visas being blocked since December.
He said: “We have examples of clinics being cancelled and delays in terms of patients receiving care. It exacerbates pressures in what are relatively small medical teams.”
A Home Office spokeswoman told the BBC that the system was in the “national interest”, adding that rejected candidates were able to reapply for visas in future months.