There is growing evidence that an exodus of EU migrants from the UK after Brexit will have a negative impact on the staffing of the NHS. Government data and other research show that many EU migrants are already leaving their jobs in the NHS or have plans to leave in the near future, either returning to their Member State or to take up positions in other parts of Europe where they feel welcome.
A British Medical Association (BMA) survey of 1,720 European doctors working for the NHS has found that one in five of them have made plans to leave the UK. This is particularly worrying as according to the most recent government figures, 10% of the doctors working in the NHS have an EU nationality.
In November, a government spokesperson responded to the BMA survey suggesting they were not concerned. The Department for Health pointed to an apparent increase in EEA citizens working in the NHS since the referendum. However, according to the government’s own briefing on NHS staffing, the data showing an increase in EU staff in the NHS is not reliable - this is due to the fact that they have failed to previously fully document the nationalities of all NHS staff. The increase may, therefore, be a result of better recording practices. Secondly, the government’s response missed the point. The survey suggests that one in five doctors plan to leave, which would, in fact, cause major staffing issues. Despite the vague government reassurance, based on factual misrepresentation, there remains a cause for concern over the staffing of the NHS post-Brexit.
This government briefing highlighted something more worrying. Even though they have not previously captured full data on staff nationalities, recent figures point to a definite increase in the number of nurses and health visitors from EU countries leaving the NHS. There are nearly 600 less EU nurses and health visitors since June 2016. There has been a 6% drop in the number of Spanish nurses working for the NHS. Nursing staff are disproportionately female. This raises the wider question, not yet addressed, about whether Brexit is having more of an impact on female or lower skilled workers. Women are more likely to be lower skilled workers.
The government’s figures and the BMA survey demonstrate that there must be more concern about staffing issues in the NHS. The government should act to reassure migrant workers that their rights will be protected post Brexit. They need to lessen migrants’ fears of what may happen after Brexit and assure people that they will maintain their rights, regardless of any Brexit deal. As the 3 Million point out: migrants will continue to leave until the government promises to secure their rights regardless of any deal.
More than anything, this is a matter of respect for the migrant workers who have worked tirelessly to maintain the health care offered by the NHS.
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