The head of the NHS in England has urged the government to provide assurances that over 130,000 staff from the Eurozone currently working in healthcare and social care settings will be allowed to remain in the UK.
This has been thrown into doubt by the recent British vote to exit the European Union.
Simon Stevens has spoken out on the subject, asking for thousands of valued public sector healthcare workers to be protected against potential sacking.
Stevens comments followed closely on the back of Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s medical director, indicating that the government will need to spend an additional £1/2 billion in order to replace the existing EU funding for medical research.
Clearly Brexit will have a massive influence over the health service.
Stevens has already spoken to the Health Select Committee on the matter, indicating that the NHS has been reliant on overseas health professionals throughout its history.
The health chief particularly pointed to the example of Great Ormond Street, in which 400 members of staff currently hail from the European mainland.
Stevens called for a “categorical assurance” from the government that all of these individuals will be able to continue their work in the healthcare system.
However, campaigners in favour of the recent Brexit from the European Union have suggested that some of the employment shortfall could be filled by training and recruiting native Britons.
In this context, the recent decision to scrap bursaries for nurses can be considered particularly contentious.
The aforemntioned Keogh asserted that between 2007 and 2013 Britain had contributed €5.4 billion to the European health research budget, while withdrawing €8.8 billion.
This information was central to the assertion that the UK must find another £500 million annually if it is to retain the same level of medical research which has been enjoyed previously.
Keogh believes that the present climate of uncertainty is detrimental for the NHS, asserting that “a number of individuals have indicated they are not that keen on coming to jobs in the UK — people with a very significant academic background — and we are already hearing of collaborations that are being put on ice while this uncertainty is being resolved”.
MPs have also quizzed Stevens on the notion of Britons receiving free healthcare when travelling within the Eurozone.
Stephen suggested that many such agreements in this area were related to membership of the European Economic Area, as opposed to the European Union.
“We have reciprocal agreements outside the EU, such as with Israel and other countries as well, so we will just have to go in to bat for a sensible set of arrangements,” Stevens suggested.
A prominent campaign group committed to the exit of Britain from the European Union has been critical of the NHS policy of David Cameron.
The Brexit campaign group backed by the justice secretary, Michael Gove, is trying to persuade senior NHS staff to sign a letter which indicates that the government has essentially starved the health service of funding.
This could be seen as a major political divide, considering that Gove remains part of the government that he is criticising.
A draft version of the letter indicates that “David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt must accept responsibility for this – they have starved the NHS of necessary funding for too long.”
However, James McGrory, a spokesman for Britain Stronger in Europe, criticised the group for what he viewed as political opportunism, and questioned both their motives and trustworthiness.
“You cannot trust Vote Leave with the NHS. They are people who have spent their political lives championing policies which would destroy the NHS as we know it. It’s rank opportunism for them to now don the clothes of protectors of the NHS.”
Nonetheless, the decision to directly criticise the Conservative government has been widely condemned by the Conservative party hierarchy, because Vote Leave features Gove, the London mayor, Boris Johnson, and cabinet ministers Priti Patel and John Whittingdale among senior committee members.
As the letter continues it outlines the perilous state of the NHS in 2016, and asserts that critical action must be taken in the foreseeable future.
“But as it slips into financial crisis the NHS itself needs some urgent attention. The NHS is being asked to make huge cuts at a time of rising demand. Patients are having to wait longer for treatment, hospital deficits are increasing and doctors are on strike after being told they must take a pay cut,” it says, claiming that Brexit would hand billions back to the service.”
Despite criticism of the group, a spokesman on behalf of Vote Leave stated that exiting the European Union is ultimately having an extremely negative impact on the health service, and that leaving the ‘superstate’ would be in Britain’s best interests, as well as the NHS.
“If we Vote Leave we can stop handing over £350m a week to the EU and can instead spend our money on our priorities like the NHS.”
A senior Department of Health source defended the policy of the government, pointing to the £10 billion of funding that has already been earmarked for the NHS, while criticising senior Tory MPs for getting involved.
“Every Conservative MP stood on a manifesto to deliver this package, o we expect every Conservative MP to have absolutely nothing to do with this letter.”
It seems that many people involved in the political process consider that the debate over Europe and the future of the health service are intrinsically linked.