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Nurse and social care staffing ‘essential’ to get right in Brexit deal

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Sufficient sources of nursing staff for both the NHS and social care are two “essential” areas that the next government must secure as the UK exits the European Union, a think-tank has warned.

Ahead of next week’s election, the Nuffield Trust highlighted that both the health and care system in the UK were currently dependent on nursing staff from other EU countries.

“The NHS and social care were already under pressure from tight funding settlements”

Mark Dayan

Without a deal to allow EU staff to stay after Brexit, social care could potentially face a shortfall of 70,000 staff and the health service be left without 22,000 nurses, it said.

It set out staffing in the two sectors among a list of six “essentials” that the next government needs to secure for the NHS and social care, and the people who use these services.

The think-tank warned that getting the Brexit deal “wrong risks leaving already strained services with an impossible task”.

The message from the Nuffield Trust follows comments by health secretary Jeremy Hunt at the weekend that a bad deal on Brexit would be “a disaster” for the NHS.

The Nuffield Trust has today published a new briefing on the impact of Brexit on the NHS and social care – titled Getting a Brexit Deal that Works for the NHS.

It highlights that ahead of the election, polls show that the public feel that the two most serious issues facing Britain are leaving the EU and the NHS – two issues that are closely connected, it says.

“If we get a bad Brexit outcome, that would be a disaster for the NHS”

Jeremy Hunt

The think-tank stated that the NHS was “dependent” on EU nurses to prevent the “serious problem of understaffing from getting even worse”, with 22,000 currently working in the service in England.

Its briefing highlighted the dramatic rise in the numbers migrating from the European Economic Area, so that by last year, almost a third of newly-registered nurses in the UK had trained in the EEA.

It argued that there must be a commitment either to continue to allow substantial nurse migration after Brexit, or to increase the number of places for nurse training courses in this country.

In addition, the think-tank has calculated that social care could face a shortfall of as many as 70,000 workers by 2025-26 if net migration of unskilled workers is halted after Brexit.

Substantial migration of such staff from the EU will have to continue after Brexit, it said, or wages in UK care homes and homecare agencies may need to rise to attract more home-grown staff.

Jeremy hunt new website

Jeremy hunt new website

Jeremy Hunt

As well as staffing issues, the Nuffield Trust also warned that the NHS could face a bill of around £500m if retired British people currently living in other EU countries decide to return home if their right to healthcare overseas was withdrawn after Brexit.

Around 900 extra beds would be required if this situation occurred and the NHS might no longer have access to medicines at as good a price if the UK left the EU’s medicine licensing system.

However, the Nuffield Trust said it was possible there could be “some upsides to Brexit for the NHS”, though it was unlikely the £350m per week figure used during the EU referendum would materialise.

For example, it said there was still the scope for a funding boost for the UK when it stopped paying its EU membership fees, which could give the NHS additional money for one or two years.

Mark Dayan, Nuffield Trust policy and public affairs analyst, said: “The NHS and social care were already under pressure from tight funding settlements and growing staffing problems well before the EU referendum last year.

“But if we handle it badly, leaving the EU could make these problems even worse, given the potential impact on both the strength of the UK economy and the supply of overseas staff to both health and social care services,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mr Hunt highlighted the need for a “good” Brexit deal for the health service during an interview on Sunday on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.

“If we don’t get a good Brexit outcome and we don’t protect the economic recovery, the jobs that so many people depend on, whose taxes pay for the NHS, if we get a bad Brexit outcome, that would be a disaster for the NHS,” he said.

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