An umbrella group representing health and social care providers has welcomed agreement between the UK government and the European Union over the future of overseas NHS staff from EU nations.
The Cavendish Coalition said it welcomed agreement that EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa will have their rights to live, work and study protected.
“This will give reassurance to the vital 165,000 EU health and social care workers”
It also welcomed a guarantee there will be “no hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, maintaining “constitutional and economic integrity of the UK”.
The coalition was responding to the news of a last minute breakthrough in phase one of the Brexit negotiations, which was revealed yesterday by the government.
In a joint progress report, both parties said they had reached “agreement in principle across” three key areas under consideration in the first phase of negotiations.
These were protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, the framework for addressing the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland, and the financial settlement.
Danny Mortimer, the coalition’s co-convenor and chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said: “We welcome the confirmation that the rights of EU citizens will be protected and that there will not be a hard border in Northern Ireland.
“This will give reassurance to the vital 165,000 EU health and social care workers currently dedicating their professional lives to our health care system,” he said.
“The next step is to ensure that any future immigration system uses public service value to assess skill levels and set entry requirements, rather than earnings,” said Mr Mortimer.
“This would help to tackle the misleading assumption that the salary paid to a foreign-born worker is the main indicator of their value to the social care and health system,” he added.
The Cavendish Coalition organisations came together last September to ensure that the health and social care system could continue to meet its staffing needs following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
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Uncertainty over Brexit has already been partly blamed for an unprecedented shrink in the size of the nursing register this year, as revealed by figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
It also came in the wake of separate evidence from the NMC showing that the EU nurse pipeline was beginning to dry up dramatically following the referendum result.
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Stephen Burke, chief executive of the staffing agency HCL Workforce Solutions, said: “We welcome the announcement that EU citizen’s rights will be protected in the UK after Brexit.
“EU nurses and health professionals are essential to the continued functioning of our health services, and it is vital that they get clarity about their future status if we are to retain their talent,” said Mr Burke.
“We also hope this agreement will allow for the continued unimpeded supply of high quality EU nurses into the NHS until March 2019, and we would urge the government to avoid stringent restrictions on the entry of health professionals after this date,” he added.
Dr Andrew Dearden, treasurer of the British Medical Association, which is a member of the coalition, said he too welcomed the progress made in the talks, in particular guarantees there would not be a hard border in Northern Ireland.
“These assurances are vital to provide EU citizens with confidence about their future in the UK and protect the delivery of cross-border health care,” he said.
“Progress now needs to be made on a flexible immigration system that ensures the NHS and medical research in the UK can attract and retain the workforce needed to deliver safe care and maintain world class innovation and research,” he added.
In a tweet on Friday, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “This deal gives our brilliant EU doctors and nurses binding guarantees about their residence rights. NHS staff please spread the word to European colleagues, this is your home, we value your life-saving work, and we want you to stay.”