London leaders have warned that the capital is “haemorrhaging clinically qualified European Union citizens” and there should be a sector-specific guarantee for their right to stay in the UK post-Brexit.
The London Assembly’s health committee has today called on the capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, to put pressure on the government to provide firm assurances that EU nurses can remain here after Brexit.
“Many of our hospitals and clinics simply could not function without EU citizens”
It noted that there were over 6,000 nurses from the EU working in London’s health service and that it was twice as reliant on them as the rest of the country.
In addition, the committee highlighted that the social care sector was even more reliant on EU workers, with 13% of its workforce coming from the European Economic Area.
Reports that the number of EU nurses registering to work in Britain have fallen by 90% compared to the year before were alarming, it noted, particularly when nursing vacancies had hit an all-time high.
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The committee said it wanted the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, to give health workers greater certainty about their future.
In its fourth Brexit directive letter to the mayor, the assembly urged him to discuss whether the government could provide a sector-specific guarantee for the rights of EU healthcare workers.
The committee noted that the government had previously agreed in principle that EU citizens currently working in the UK could remain after Brexit formally occurs next year.
However, it warned that ministers had not done enough to reassure healthcare workers on the issue and that there was also uncertainty about those that arrived during the transition period.
“We welcome the Phase 1 Brexit agreement in principle but it does not provide enough reassurance for EU citizens,” stated the latter.
“The agreement commits to protecting the rights of EU citizens already in the UK and those who arrive before 29 March 2019. But an agreement in principle is not the same as a guarantee,” it said.
“Our EU Exit Working Group heard about the impact that continued uncertainty is having on EU nationals’ quality of life and their decisions about their future,” said the letter.
“Equally, an agreement about EU citizens who arrive before the UK’s withdrawal date does not help to attract EU medical professionals in the long term,” it added.
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The committee highlighted that the UK already gave nurses and doctors from countries outside of the EU preferred immigration status, because clinicians were in shortage supply.
“We recommend that you discuss whether the government could provide a sector-specific guarantee for the rights of EU healthcare workers,” it told the mayor.
It also recommended that Mr Khan asked the government to review what impact the removal of student nurse bursaries have had on nursing course applications.
The committee said it supported the government’s aim to train more British citizens to fill nurse vacancies, but it was “concerned” about the decision by ministers to remove nursing bursaries.
On Friday, the Commons’ health select committee also wrote to the government calling for clarity on the transitional period, warning that NHS services may be put at risk without sufficient planning. Meanwhile, it too followed a critical report on Brexit and immigration from another group of MPs.
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Speaking today, Dr Onkar Sahota, chair of the London Assembly’s health committee said: “Many of our hospitals and clinics simply could not function without EU citizens.
“There are consultants, GPs, surgeons and clerical staff from the EU, all working to keep Londoners healthy,” he said. “EU nurses and doctors are skilled professionals and if they’re uncertain about their status in the UK, they leave the NHS.”
He added: “We also question – in light of new evidence on the reduction in applications to study nursing – whether the time come to ask if the removal of nursing bursaries was the right decision for our NHS.”
“The government must ensure this remains the case by making it loud and clear that nurses from the EU are welcome”
Jude Diggins, the Royal College of Nursing’s London operational manager, said: “EU colleagues who have given so much to our health service deserve to be given definitive security about their right to remain.
“The vital health services that rely on their skills need to know if their staff have permission to stay in London,” she said, adding that ministers must make it “clear that nurses from the EU are welcome”.
“In its negotiations, the government must seriously and with urgency put the right to remain for EU healthcare workers front and centre and move fast to guarantee the rights of EU nurses who arrive during the transition period,” she added.