NHS leaders have warned of the risk to their ability to deliver current levels of care if many of their European Union staff were to leave following Brexit.
Following the UK’s decision last month to leave the EU, the organisation representing NHS providers and commissioners has said “immediate steps” must now be taken by the government to assure healthcare staff from other EU countries that they will be able to remain in the UK indefinitely.
In a briefing paper ahead of a debate in the House of Lords this afternoon about the impact of Brexit on safe staffing in health and care services, the NHS Confederation organisation also said NHS and social care leaders were worried about their ability to recruit workers from the EU in the future.
”We have an immediate and pressing need for clinical staff which cannot be met from our domestically trained market”
“The uncertainty created about our ability in future to recruit from other EU countries is also worrying NHS leaders, given current staff shortages in some professions and some local areas,” said the briefing document.
“We have an immediate and pressing need for clinical staff which cannot be met from our domestically trained market,” it added.
It noted around 5% of staff working in the NHS– around 57,000 people – and that at least 6% of social care employees were from the EU.
In particular, around 21,000 nurses in England are from the EU, with more than half of these working in London, the south east and east of England.
”The UK’s decision to leave the European Union has created uncertainty for the significant portion of our workforce who are from other EU countries….If many of these staff leave, there would be some risk to our ability to deliver current levels of access to care,” said the document.
It said the NHS currently faced an “extremely challenging set of circumstances” including rising demand which was increasing faster than funding.
”The uncertainty created about our ability in future to recruit from other EU countries is also worrying NHS leaders, given current staff shortages”
“To deliver on our commitments to the government and the public, we need not only the right numbers of staff in the right place but also to ensure they are valued and feel engaged in the work they do,” said the document.
While it noted changes to the health service were being planned to help address these issues, it said these proposals – which include removing bursaries for student nurses, increasing apprenticeships, and introducing nursing associates - were still yet to deliver more people in post. This meant EU recruitment was “critical” at present”, it said.
But many NHS employers were concerned they will have trouble recruiting much-needed staff to fill vacancies, said the document.
”There is also speculation about the impact of a less favourable exchange rate making the UK a less attractive destination for healthcare workers”
“The prospect of Brexit could discourage EU citizens from coming to work in the NHS due to fears of being unwelcome or concerns that in future they may lose out by being unable to transfer pension entitlements from one country to another, or may lose entitlement to social security benefits,” it said.
“There is also speculation about the impact of a less favourable exchange rate making the UK a less attractive destination for healthcare workers to live and work,” it added.
NHS Confederation said the government must take a range of actions including assurance from the government that EU workers will be able to remain in the UK indefinitely, and that these healthcare staff are valued.
In addition, it called for a commitment for nurses to remain on the government’s shortage occupation list, which makes it easier for employers to recruit from non-EU countries.