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Health committee urges DH to draw up plan for post-Brexit uncertainty

The Department of Health (DH) have been told to put contingency plans in place to prepare for the effect that Brexit could have on the health and social care sector.

In a report drawn up by the health committee, the department was urged to produce a comprehensive list of issues for the health service that it will work to tackle when the UK withdraws from the EU.

In particular, the committee cited staffing issues as a potential problem in post-Brexit Britain. Over 60,000 people from EU countries work in the NHS, and the committee stated that they would be desperately needed given the intense pressure that the health service is currently under.

Concern was also raised about the effect that Brexit could have on the morale of EU staff, as it stated: “Difficulties in negotiating the process of applying for permanent residency in the UK and bureaucratic hurdles such as the requirement for Comprehensive Sickness Insurance all add to the concerns of EU workers and their families.

“The government's plan for our post-Brexit future should both ensure that health and social care providers can retain and recruit the brightest and best from all parts of the globe and that the value of the contribution of lower paid health and social workers is recognised.”

The committee also told the government that it should put plans in place to protect UK residents who rely on the EU’s reciprocal healthcare arrangements. Brexit could lead to travellers and holiday makers losing cheap and accessible care under the EU insurance card, but it also helps people living aboard get access to essential care as well.

It added: “The government wishes to maintain the arrangements largely as they operate at present but no guarantee can be provided that this will happen. Consequently, people both here and in the EU face uncertainty about their future healthcare arrangements.

“We welcome the government’s signal that they wish to prioritise and resolve the existing rights of all R-EU nationals resident in the UK and UK nationals resident in the R-EU. We call on both sides of the negotiation to prioritise and resolve this matter at the earliest opportunity.”

Health groups welcome committee’s message

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said he supported the committee’s call to draw up a clear list of issues that the department needed to plan for.

“As Jeremy Hunt told the committee, the NHS would fall over without staff from EU countries. Not only do we need to try to secure their rights as soon as possible, we also need to recognise that we will need more workers to come to the UK for at least the next few years,” he explained.

“Applying the immigration limits we use for the rest of the world to the EU would shut out vital staff: it isn’t an option. A new system must be designed with the needs of health, social care and patients clearly in mind.”

Edwards added that the committee was right that there would be real risks in ending the reciprocal healthcare arrangements which give British citizens EHIC cards for travel, and allow them to retire abroad with health coverage.

“With staff and beds already stretched the NHS would struggle to deliver adequate care if many pensioners currently living in other EU countries had to return,” he argued. “It may not be easy to replace this with new arrangements after Brexit, so the next Government must start looking at options immediately.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, also agreed with the committee’s call, saying it was right to highlight the value of EU staff working for the NHS.

“We have strongly advocated confirmation of their indefinite leave to remain,” Hopson said. “This must be an urgent priority for the next government. Beyond that, we need a flexible immigration system that will allow the NHS to meet its staffing needs,” he added.

“We agree that health concerns should be ‘front and centre’ of the British negotiating priorities. The report is right to urge the government to consult widely with stakeholders, and we stand ready to contribute advice and expertise to help facilitate the best outcome for NHS staff and patients.”

The chief executive & general secretary of the RCN, Janet Davies, added: “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. The report leaves the government with no place left to turn.

“In this election, all political parties must reassure EU nursing staff working in the NHS and social care that they are needed, valued and welcome. The failure to do so means soaring numbers are heading for the door. We can ill-afford to lose their skills.”

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V Dodhia   29/04/2017 at 12:14

London voted to REMAIN and now London has the most impact in terms of workforce from BREXIT, who speaks for LONDON? Does the London Mayor Siddique Khan have any influence? Can Healthy London Partnership and London Boroughs do something?

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