- Freedom of movement rules will end immediately if there is a no-deal Brexit on October 31st
- There are 33 NHS trusts where over 10% of staff are estimated to be nationals of other EU countries
- After Brexit the government will introduce a new, fairer immigration system that prioritises skills and what people can contribute to the UK, rather than where they come from
A number of prominent healthcare bodies including the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) have called on Boris Johnson to put healthcare ‘at the heart’ of the UK’s strategy for leaving the EU.
Of particular concern is the plan to end freedom of movement for EU citizens to live and work freely in Britain from the first day of the UK’s exit, which would make the chronic staff shortages so much worse.
The call comes after the government said that freedom of movement rules will end immediately if there is a no-deal Brexit on October 31st rather than the intended plan agreed by Theresa May that would have seen a slow phasing of the new rules.
According to the latest government figures approximately 65,000 NHS staff in England are EU nationals, 5.5% of all NHS staff.
EU countries make up 9.5% of doctors in England, 6.4% of all nurses and 5.7% of scientific, therapeutic and technical staff which is why so many healthcare bodies are so concerned.
The figures highlight that any problems felt post Brexit will be felt throughout the whole of the NHS and at every level but for those in London the fears are greatest.
London has the highest concentration of ‘other EU nationalities NHS staff’ and about one-third of all EU NHS staff work in London. Indeed, there are 33 NHS trusts where over 10% of staff are estimated to be nationals of other EU countries; with most in London and the South East.
The ‘settled status’ scheme, allowing EU nationals currently living in the UK until December 2020 to apply for the right to remain, had gone someway to settle fears as more than 1 million have been granted permission to stay.
However, there are growing concerns over the approx. 2.6 million EU citizens still living in Britain that have not yet applied, especially now Boris Johnson has changed the goal posts.
There are also concerns that the ‘settled status’ scheme is not part of government legislation, meaning it can effectively be changed at a moment’s notice.
The government has said that “Freedom of movement as it currently stands will end on 31 October when the UK leaves the EU, and after Brexit the government will introduce a new, fairer immigration system that prioritises skills and what people can contribute to the UK, rather than where they come from.”
But this doesn’t answer the question where these people will come from, after all any further loses will only add to the chronic skills shortage the NHS is already facing.
It is vital that decisions on policies are made and communicated quickly and that any unnecessary bureaucracy barriers to recruitment are removed.