Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about NHS recruitment and Brexit, and the related 38 Degrees campaign. I completely agree it is vital that our NHS and social care sector are able to recruit staff from overseas after the UK leaves the EU.
The scale of the contribution from EU workers in our health service cannot be underestimated: 5.6% of the NHS workforce come from the EU and roughly 100,000 EU citizens work in our care sector. Replacing these staff would be extremely costly to the NHS and I have no doubt that making it more difficult for EU health professionals to work in the UK will worsen existing staff shortages.
NHS staff work long hours, often in difficult circumstances. They do so much to make our health service one to be proud of and deserve our respect, admiration and support. Yet years of pay restraint, cuts to training budgets, and the Government’s failure to invest in and plan appropriately for the workforce has resulted in more than 100,000 vacancies across the NHS.
I support ending the uncertainty and red tape affecting international recruitment and I am pleased that our shadow frontbench has committed to provide work visas to anyone who has a job offer in the NHS.
In 2016 the British people voted to leave the EU. However, I do not believe anyone voted for fewer nurses, doctors and care workers, or to damage our NHS and worsen the quality of patient care. I have serious concerns that a No Deal Brexit would be catastrophic for our health service and present huge staffing implications. I will therefore seek to keep options open to prevent a No Deal or damaging form of Brexit being forced on our NHS.
As well as ensuring that our health service can continue to recruit the staff it needs from overseas, I believe Ministers must also bring forward a credible and long-term workforce plan to address chronic staff shortages. This should include reinstating the nurse bursary that the Government abolished and urgent investment to grow the apprenticeship route to higher qualification in the NHS.