There are approximately 62,000 European nationals who form part of the fabric of our NHS. They are a skilled and valued group of workers. It is important that they are provided with the certainty they need to continue living and working in the UK after Brexit.
Our health service has always relied on the contribution of overseas workers. Yet concerns have been raised that the government’s attitude towards Brexit has left many EU nationals working in our NHS feeling that they have no option but to leave.
The Royal College of Nursing said the government has been too late to act on guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens after Brexit, and has warned that ‘lack of certainty is undoubtedly a key reason that EU nurses are no longer choosing to work in the UK, which is already putting pressure on staff and services.’ Figures published by the RCN in November show a 67 per cent increase in the number of EU nurses and midwives leaving the professional register, and an 89 per cent fall in the number of EU staff joining. 10,000 EU employees – nurses and doctors included – have already quit.
NHS Providers has said that there is a continued need for trusts to recruit and retain staff from the EU to mitigate the workforce gap. We need to recognise the contribution that nationals from across Europe play in our public services, by guaranteeing the rights and status of existing EU nationals and ensuring that our NHS and care sector can recruit the staff needed to care for our sick and elderly now and in the future.
The government has overseen an unprecedented workforce crisis in the NHS and over 100,000 vacancies remain across the system. This crisis has been made worse by actions taken directly by this government, including seven years’ pay restraint for NHS staff and the scrapping of bursaries for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.
At the General Election I stood on a manifesto which pledged to immediately guarantee existing rights for all EU nationals living in Britain. More widely, the manifesto committed to establishing a long-term workforce plan for the NHS, scrapping the NHS pay cap, and reintroducing nurse bursaries and funding for health-related degrees.
I will continue to press Ministers to do more to ensure that EU nationals working in the NHS feel valued and able to continue to make a vital contribution to health care in our country.