Union leaders have warned that the status of health and social care workers from other European Union countries need protecting or UK services risk a disastrous haemorrhage of staff post-Brexit.
The heads of both nursing and medical unions came together to issue the warning on workforce in the wake of the EU referendum result.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, and Dr Gerrard Phillips, education and training vice president at the Royal College of Physicians, were addressing a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference.
Labour shadow health secretary Diane Abbott also attended the fringe event titled Working Together to Meet Patient Needs.
The event was hosted by the RCP and the RCN, and was chaired by Channel 4’s health and social care correspondent Victoria Macdonald.
Ms Davies stressed that there were insufficient numbers of nurses in the system, which had been caused by cuts in student nurse places.
As a result, she called for nurses from the EU to have their status defended.
Status of EU NHS staff needs protection post-Brexit
Dr Phillips agreed, warning that there was a substantial proportion of the NHS workforce that had been trained in the EU, whose status needed protecting.
Ms Abbott stressed that the impact of losing EU nationals could mean collapse in the social care sector, adding that regardless of the policy impact, personal staff concerns needed to be addressed.
She called for the best possible Brexit deal to be achieved, including the need to protect freedom of movement, despite suggestions from some of her colleagues in the Labour Party.
She added that the consequences of losing freedom of movement would be “catastrophic” for the NHS and social care and also fed into a distasteful narrative.
Referring to the move from bursaries to loans, Ms Davies claimed the training of student nurses was being “marketised” away from the demand requirements for the country.
On current nurses, she said it was a disgrace that there were stories of nurses using food banks due to the low wages they received.
Discussing divisions within the funding system, the RCN chief executive stressed that this failed to recognise the interplay of the entire healthcare system and ignored outcomes.
Dr Phillips added that funding was not keeping pace with annual increases in demand for the NHS, with problems at the “front door” and “back door” of hospitals.
He highlighted that those being admitted were now requiring more intense treatments while there were problems with discharging patients. The system needed to better support patients before and after the hospital setting, he said.
Meanwhile, Ms Abbott touched on themes she also cited in her keynote speech to the conference on health policy.
The shadow health secretary called for the halt and reverse of privatisation and marketization.
She also claimed that pharmaceutical industry profits were being used to dominate the market rather than being re-invested into research.
In addition, she pointed to agency staff wages as another example of the NHS suffering from private profit.
Abbott warns about loss of bursaries and Brexit
Ms Abbott also warned that the Health and Social Care Act and the fragmentation it had caused had resulted in “perverse” outcomes, highlighted she said by the recent problems around access to the HIV treatment Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).
Continuing, she argued that if local authorities were not providing services then it felt like ministers were washing their hands of healthcare responsibilities.
A similar fringe event will also be hosted by the RCN and the RCP at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham next week.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt, will answer questions from Guardian health correspondent Denis Campbell on issues including NHS and social care funding, and the challenges facing the health workforce.
Dame Professor Donna Kinnair, RCN director of nursing, policy and practice, and RCP president Professor Jane Dacre, will also be speaking at the event.