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NHS faces Brexit staffing crisis unless visa caps lifted – report

Posted on 6/06/2018 by

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Up to 3,500 new doctors needed annually if more from outside EU aren’t allowed in

British hospitals will need as many as 3,500 new doctors a year to help address acute NHS staffing shortages unless Theresa May removes them from her skilled workers visa cap.

Analysis by the Global Future thinktank found that one in 11 health service posts are currently unfilled and, with need expected to increase, thousands of new doctors and nurses will have to be recruited in the next 10 years.

The report reveals the extent to which the NHS relies on workers from overseas but also how the UK appears to be failing to attract the European staff it needs, a situation some fear will only worsen after Brexit.

May has come under growing pressure, including from her health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to relax the immigration rules for skilled workers to allow in more foreign doctors. No 10 has said it is monitoring the situation.

The prime minister is expected to permit a small increase in the number of health specialists from outside the EU under the tier 2 visas programme in the next few weeks, though this could be at the expense of other professions.

The Global Future study found that up to 45% of some key medical specialisms - including cardiothoracic surgeons, paediatric cardiologists and neurosurgeons - are currently from outside the UK.

It has called for the 20,700 annual limit for the tier 2 visa, which was introduced by May in 2011 when she was home secretary, to be scrapped. At the very least, it wants healthcare workers removed from the threshold.

The Labour MP Liz Kendall, who wrote part of the report, said: “Since the Brexit referendum European health professionals seem increasingly unwilling to come to Britain. Many of those already are looking to leave. Incredibly, non-European health professionals who still do want to come are being turned away, even when the NHS wants to give them jobs.

“If the government introduces new restrictions on EU immigration after Brexit and applies them to NHS staff then the situation will only get worse.

“The next few months are critical. Unless the government takes urgent measures to stop the drain of NHS staff back to Europe and to ensure health professionals with the skills the NHS needs are welcomed into this country, waiting lists will get even longer and patients will suffer.”

Global Future also wants the prime minister to abandon her target of reducing net migration to below 100,000 and to guarantee that nothing is done to threaten the free movement of health workers from the EU after the UK leaves the bloc.

Healthcare staff recruited from overseas to fill NHS posts should not be subjected to a minimum income threshold, which has seen doctors with job offers refused entry to the UK, the report said.

About one in eight (12.5%) of the NHS in England’s 1.2 million employees come from abroad. However, NHS staff in clinical roles are more likely to be foreign, with 26% of doctors and 16% of nurses and health visitors from overseas.

The report, Our International Health Service, says that while training extra UK staff was part of the solution, there was no prospect of training enough to meet the need in the short to medium term.

It warned that analysis of NHS and General Medical Council data suggested that the health service could find it increasingly difficult to attract the clinical staff it needed from the EU after Brexit.

The number of European nurses in the NHS has already fallen since the referendum, it said, while the proportion of doctors gaining a licence to practise in the UK had decreased from 25% of the total in 2014 to just 16% in 2017.

Health Education England, meanwhile, has estimated the NHS could need as many as 190,000 additional clinical staff by 2027, the equivalent of 35,000 doctors, who make up 18% of the total.

Peter Starkings, the director of Global Future, said: “The truth is immigrants do not put the NHS under strain, they are keeping it going. This research shows, that without continued immigration into the UK, the NHS will not be able to function in its current form.”

Source: TheGuardian