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Lord Hunt: Government's hard Brexit approach is putting patient safety at risk

Lord Hunt: Government's hard Brexit approach is putting patient safety at risk
3 min read

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath argues that we are seeing an 'unforgivable' drain of talent from the country as a result of Brexit.


Theresa May's hard Brexit approach in prioritising immigration targets ahead of investment and jobs is also putting at risk the safety of patients in the NHS.

Analysis by the Health Foundation shows here has been an alarming 96% drop in the number of nurses registered by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to practise in the UK since July last year.

From a high of 1,304 in July 2016 to 344 two months later, the numbers have dramatically fallen to just 46 EU nurse registrants in April this year.

Already the NHS faces a huge challenge with a shortage of 30,000 nurses. As the Health Foundation point out, without EU nurses it will be even harder for the NHS and other employers to find the staff they need to provide safe patient care.

In 2013/14, one in three new nurse registrations were by people from EU countries other than the UK. In England over 7% of nurses and health visitors are from the EU.

Further analysis by the Health Foundation estimate that even on the most optimistic scenario, the NHS will have a shortage of nurses specializing in the care of adult patients in 2020. Under the more pessimistic scenario, the shortfall will be a staggering 38,000.

The situation for midwives is just as bleak. The Royal College of Midwives has discovered from the NMC that between June and August last year, there were 102 people from other EU Member States who registered to practise as midwives in the UK; in the most recent three months (March to May 2017), the figure was just five.

The care sector is similarly affected. Research by Independent Age shows that last year, more than 80% of people who moved to the UK to work in social care were EEA nationals. Skill for Care recently reported that 9% of the 47,000 nursing jobs in adult social care are vacant, and that in the last year over a third of nurses left their post.

The NHS is under huge pressure. Waiting time targets have been consistently missed for many months. Post code prescribing is making availability of medicines a lottery. Services are being increasingly rationed as austerity bites and the shortage of key clinical staff threatens its very sustainability.

Theresa May's weak and unstable government has pushed NHS services to the brink, and it is patients who will pay the price. Our health service has always relied on the contribution of overseas workers, yet these staff are being forced out by this government's neglect and disregard. The Tories are overseeing an unforgivable drain of talent out of our country, because of their chaotic attitude to the Brexit negotiations.

It is vital that the Government takes action to ensure that the health and care sector can maintain access to the workers it needs, wherever they come from, and that people are not deterred from coming to the UK. 

Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath is a Labour peer and is the Shadow Health Minister in the House of Lords

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