The head of the NHS in England says that hospital trusts have been told to “reach out” to their overseas staff who are European Union nationals about staying on after Brexit.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said efforts were being made to reassure the over 60,000 EU nationals working in the health service who may be worried about their futures.
“Every hospital has now been written to asking them to reach out to their staff from the rest of the EU”
Mr Stevens said: “Every hospital has now been written to asking them to reach out to their staff from the rest of the EU.”
The letter to trusts reminds them “that the home secretary has now set a clear process by which people can apply to stay in this country, which we hope they will”, he said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.
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There are 62,000 EU nationals working in the NHS in England – about 5.6% of the total workforce. However, the referendum result coincided with the start of a dramatic fall in the number of overseas nurses from EU countries seeking to work for the health service.
Nursing and Midwifery Council data last autumn showed a 67% increase in the number of nurses and midwives from Europe leaving the register and an 89% drop in the number from Europe joining it.
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Mr Stevens said that, as well as keeping EU nationals, it was vital the UK produced more homegrown doctors and nurses.
“Alongside our reliance on international staff, we obviously want to boost the training and the availability of British trained staff,” he said.
“We obviously want to boost the training and the availability of British trained staff”
While the focus had been on doctors the emphasis now needed to shift to nurses and other disciplines, said Mr Stevens.
“We’ve got five new medical schools that are coming online over the next several years,” he said. “That’s going to mean a 25% increase in the number of home grown British doctors. We need to do the same with nursing and other disciplines.”
Difficulties in retaining GPs could mean more practice nurses being appointed to fill the gap, he suggested.
“The pressures in general practice mean a lot of GPs are choosing to retire early. So part of what we’ve got to do is not just expand, but we’ve got to redesign the way GP services work,” he said.
This would mean “relieving some of that load from [GPs] by more practice nurses and pharmacists, and new technology,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Stevens said that the Department of Health and Social Care was now actively planning for different Brexit scenarios, including no deal.
His comments signalled a change in approach, as last October he told MPs that he had not been asked by the government to consider a no deal outcome.
“Social media and advertising has got to look very carefully at the kinds of impacts it’s having”
In the event of no deal, making sure medicine supplies were secure was “top of the list”, the NHS chief executive said.
“There is immediate planning, which the health department, with other parts of government, is undertaking around securing medicine supply and equipment under different scenarios,” he said. “That will crystallise when it’s clear this autumn what the position will be.
“Extensive work” was going on with the pharmaceutical industry to make for a smooth transition should there be a no-deal outcome, said Mr Stevens.
No deal was not the preferred outcome for the NHS, but it was part of their planning, he said. “Nobody’s pretending this is desirable, but if that’s where we get to then it will not have been unforeseen,” he said.
He rejected the idea that the new £20bn funding injection into the NHS was going to be eaten up by higher social care demands.
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He said: “The PM has been explicit that the settlement for social care will be such that there will not be extra pressure coming into the NHS as a consequence.”
He accepted that more focus was needed on mental health. The NHS’s new long-term plan would need to “spell out very clearly” how to give mental health issues parity of esteem with physical health issues, he said.
However, the NHS could not do this in isolation, he warned. Social media, advertising and reality TV shows had to think about their role in causing anxiety among young people in particular, he said.
“Look at the adverts being shown alongside Love Island. You’ve got explicit ads aiming at young women around breast cosmetic surgery,” said Mr Stevens.
The time was right for society to reflect on whether young people should be exposed to such pressures, he said.
He added: “Social media and advertising has got to look very carefully at the kinds of impacts it’s having.”