Uncertainty over Brexit is already hitting recruitment of health and social care staff in Scotland, according to the country’s health secretary.
Shona Robison told the Scottish parliament there was “anecdotal evidence” Britain’s plans to withdraw from the European Union was putting off people from coming to work in the country.
Her comments came during a debate this week on the impact of Brexit on health and social care services in Scotland.
”It is unacceptable that the UK government has refused to give any assurances to these workers, many of whom now see Scotland as their home”
“The uncertainty surrounding the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and in particular free movement of labour, is already impacting on recruitment with anecdotal evidence that it is making Scotland’s health and social care services less attractive to potential recruits,” said Ms Robison.
Universities were also concerned Brexit could affect their ability to attract students from other EU countries, she added.
She said demands on the health service meant Scotland would need to continue recruiting from Europe but the first step was to reassure those already working there – estimated to make up 3% of the health and social care workforce in the country.
“It is unacceptable that the UK government has refused to give any assurances to these workers, many of whom now see Scotland as their home,” she said.
”We will continue to press the UK government for confirmation that those workers will be allowed to remain here once the UK formally leaves the EU”
“We will therefore continue to press the UK government for confirmation that those workers from other parts of the European Economic Area will be allowed to remain here once the UK formally leaves the EU,” she said.
Others including Scottish Labour MSP for Glasgow Anas Sawar agreed Brexit could exacerbate current staffing shortages, noting about 2,500 nursing and midwifery posts were currently unfilled.
“The reality is that while Brexit did not cause this workforce crisis it has the potential to only make it worse,” he warned.
He said employers – as well as staff – needed “confidence” to continue to recruit from Europe.
Ms Robison said the Scottish government wanted to retain free movement of people and would continue to make this a priority in Brexit discussions with the UK government.
She also called for assurances over areas such as worker’s rights, including the European Working Time Directive regulations, which set rules about working patterns including rest periods between shifts.
However, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party MSP for the Highlands and Islands Donald Cameron, stressed the UK government had already made a commitment to retain all EU employment protection post-Brexit.
He suggested Brexit provided opportunities as well as challenges such as more straightforward procurement.
“I call on the Scottish government to engage positively with the UK government to ensure the interests of the health and social care workforce of Scotland are protected as we exit the EU,” he said.
Commenting on the debate, the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland said the impact of Brexit on the nursing workforce and student intakes needed to be “carefully considered”.
It warned the flow of EU nationals coming to work in Scotland could be affected in the coming years by the government’s deal over Brexit, and noted the future of EU staff already working in the UK was still unclear.
It said both of these factors could cause a “major problem” for staffing in the NHS and other health and social care organisations, either due to new restrictions preventing EU-born NHS staff from working in Britain, or indirectly because EU-born staff may choose to leave the UK due to the uncertainty created before new rules are put in place on migration restriction.
“RCN calls on the Scottish government to work together with the UK government, and other political parties and stakeholders across Scotland to minimise the potential impact of Brexit on the health and social care workforce,” said the union.