An influential group of MPs has suggested that the NHS and social care system in England would collapse without 150,000 workers from the European Union.
The Commons Health Select Committee called on the NHS to end the uncertainty over Brexit, indicating that the authorities should guarantee the NHS working conditions of those who hail from the EU.
Uncertainty is contributing to an unenviable atmosphere within the NHS according to the select committee, with many European Union workers unsure of their future in Britain.
Indeed, a recent survey indicated that around half of the 10,000 doctors from Europe currently working in the NHS system are already considering leaving the UK owing to Brexit.
And the NHS in England faces a shortage of doctors and will need to recruit from overseas “until the end of the next decade at the very earliest”, according to the select committee report.
MPs were told by the select committee that around 90,000 EU staff working in the social care sector, and a further 58,000 within the NHS, are responsible for “brilliant” work.
“Frankly, we would fall over without their help. That is why it is a very early priority for us to secure, as quickly as we can, agreement for their right to remain in the UK.”
Permanent residency and sickness insurance were both identified as hurdles that could induce European doctors and other healthcare professionals to return to their native countries.
Prime Minister Theresa May has already signalled her intention to guarantee the rights of EU citizens working within the healthcare system, but will not honour this commitment until the same protection is afforded for Britons currently working in other European countries.
And the report from the health committee suggests that Brexit will have a massive impact on the NHS system.
“The impact Brexit will have on people who rely on the EU’s reciprocal healthcare arrangements should not be underestimated. Not only would travellers and holidaymakers potentially lose cheap and easily accessible care provided under the European Health Insurance Card, we heard in evidence that retired British citizens in the EU, disabled people, and people with multiple conditions could face particular challenges.”
Commenting on the issue, the British Medical Association chairman Mark Porter suggested that attempts to replace departing medics with British recruits would prove fruitless, at least in the short-term.
“It won’t be a case of losing doctors from the EEA and replacing them with British doctors – it takes at least 10 years to train a doctor, and poor workforce planning by the Government means we simply don’t have enough for the number of patients in need.”
And Royal College of Nursing general secretary Janet Davies indicated her belief that the nursing profession could be particularly badly damaged.
“Theresa May has been told by this cross-party group that failing to give EU nursing staff and others the right to stay will harm the NHS. We can ill afford to lose their skills.”