NHS ‘would not exist’ without permanent residence for EU staff

The NHS cannot survive without EU national staff, the BMA said as it urged the government to consider a report recommending permanent residence for all EU nationals.

The new report, from independent think tank British Future, recommended that the government offers permanent residence to an estimated 1.8 million European Economic Area nationals who can show five years’ residency in the UK when Article 50 is triggered.

The NHS workforce is heavily reliant on immigrant and EU workers. More than 30,000 UK doctors received their primary qualifications in another European country.

Dr Mark Porter, chair of the BMA council, said: “The NHS relies on the hard work and talent of staff from many countries across Europe. It is vital these people are allowed to stay and made to feel as welcome as they should be given the great service they provide to the UK public. The health service we know and love simply would not exist without their contribution.”

He added that the government must consider these proposals as a matter of the utmost urgency.

“The NHS faces crippling pressure from lack of resource and spiralling demand already and there can be no place for further uncertainty or the possibility of staff leaving as we head toward a very difficult future,” argued Dr Porter.

Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England, has previously called for guaranteed residency for NHS staff from the EU, while think tank IPPR has recommended going further and offering them free citizenship.

Gisela Stuart MP, former chair of the Vote Leave campaign and chair of the inquiry which produced the report, said: “Britain should make clear at the start of the Brexit negotiations that EU citizens already here before that date can stay.

“This would send a clear signal about the kind of country the UK will be after Brexit and the relationship we want with Europe. We should expect reciprocal deals for Britons living in European countries, but Britain should make the first move to demonstrate good will.”

A government spokesperson added that Whitehall did want to protect the status of EU nationals, but that this “wouldn’t be possible” if British citizens’ rights in the EU were not protected in return.

British Future also found that the system for applying for permanent residence is currently too complex, and could be overwhelmed by a substantial increase in applications. It called for a streamlined system, where local authority Nationality Checking Services can process and approve simple applications.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers and chair of the Cavendish Coalition, which was founded to ensure sustainable staffing levels as the UK leaves the EU, said the proposals were “fair and reasonable” and implementing them would “mitigate the risk of staff leaving”.

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