European migrants contribute much more to the UK health sector than they consume in services, according to a government-commissioned report.
Donna Kinnair, acting chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the findings of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) shut down the “damaging belief” that overseas workers were a burden on the care system.
“Not only do they keep services going, their skills and experience add to the richness of our global profession”
In July 2017, then home secretary Amber Rudd asked the MAC to analyse the impacts of immigration from the European Economic Area (EEA) to help shape the design of a new migration policy after Brexit.
In its final report published today, the committee said EU citizens should be given no preferential access to visas after the UK’s departure from the union.
However, it called on the government to make it easier for highly-skilled workers from all countries to migrate to the UK and to lift caps on the length of time they can stay.
The committee said it saw no need to offer any work-related scheme to low-skilled staff except for those in agriculture.
“It would be completely unacceptable to allow vital services to close under the strain of not having the people required to provide good care”
Among the areas assessed by the MAC when compiling its report was public services.
It stated: “EEA migrants contribute much more to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and work than they consume in services.”
The report noted that the proportion of healthcare workers from EU countries had grown steadily between 1997 and 2017 and they now made up 4.2%, with staff from non-EU countries representing 6.6% of the workforce.
It also found no evidence that migration had reduced the quality of healthcare.
Responding to the findings, Dame Donna said: “This report puts paid to the damaging misbelief that migrant workers are a drain on health and care services. The independent experts found that the reliance of the NHS and social care on overseas professionals far outweighs the cost of their care.
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“However, when we know that the training of healthcare staff in EU countries is very similar to our own, the call for there to be no preferential treatment for EU staff to work in the UK after Brexit represents a missed opportunity,” she said.
“Only last week, vacant jobs in the NHS in England hit a record high,” she said. ”With no long-term strategy to alleviate shortages, the future UK immigration system must be equipped to recruit and keep the brightest and best professionals – patient safety depends on it.”
Dame Donna welcomed the call from the committee to remove restrictions on highly-skilled workers.
She added: “The UK has long depended on nursing professionals from around the world and any future cap on their numbers would leave health and social care services unable to recruit the nurses they need.
“Not only do they keep services going, their skills and experience add to the richness of our global profession,” she said. ”They are also valuable members of our communities, and we want them to stay in the UK after Brexit.”
The MAC document highlighted particular concerns about the future of the social care sector, which is increasingly relying on overseas workers but is still struggling to recruit and retain enough staff.
“Migrants contribute much more to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and work than they consume”
The committee recognised that pressures were going to get worse as the populations continues to grow and age.
However, it said the problems facing the sector could not by fixed by changes in migration alone and needed a wider overhaul to improve pay and conditions to make it a more attractive area to work.
In its report, the committee said: “With an ageing and expanding population, social care needs will grow in the UK.
“The sector’s problems are not primarily migration-related. A sustainable funding model, paying competitive wages to UK residents, would alleviate many of the recruitment and retention issues,” it said.
“Unless working in social care becomes more desirable to UK workers, chiefly through higher wages, migrant workers will be necessary to continue delivering these services,” added the report.
Reacting to the report, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers and co-convenor of the Cavendish Coalition, said social care providers could end up closing unless action was taken to address the problems highlighted by the MAC.
He added: “We strongly support many of the policy recommendations made by this timely report, and are pleased the MAC has highlighted the social care funding crisis.
“The number one priority should be options for social care employers to hire social care workers,” said Mr Mortimer.
“It would be completely unacceptable to allow vital services to close under the strain of not having the people required to provide good care, and so we welcome the recognition that sustainable funding would drive improved pay and conditions – and make this sector a much more attractive place to work,” he said.
However, Mr Mortimer said he was concerned that the report did not advocate for any schemes to encourage less-skilled workers into the UK in any other sectors except agriculture.
A Home Office spokesman said it would “carefully consider” the MAC’s recommendations before setting out further detail on the UK’s future immigration system.