England and Northern Ireland 'vulnerable' to workforce problems after Brexit, report says

London, the south east and Northern Ireland could all face huge workforce issues after Brexit, a new report suggests.

London, the south east and Northern Ireland could all face huge health and social care workforce issues after Brexit, a report suggests.

The Lancet study suggest that Brexit could affect the 60,000 people from
the EU who work in the NHS and 90,000 who work in adult social care. Picture: iStock 

The study in the Lancet, published on the 28 September, also identifies public health threats, while also raising fears for British pensioners living in the EU, research funding, increased competition and privatisation.

Researchers from the University of Oxford, University of Sheffield, University of Michigan, Bocconi University, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine modelled outcomes for three different scenarios of Brexit.


These included a ‘soft Brexit’ with access to the single market and restricted freedom of movement, ‘hard Brexit’ with free trade agreement between the EU and UK, or no outcome from negotiations.

On workforce issues, the report says: ‘Estimates for 2017 suggest that 60,000 people from the EU work in the NHS and 90,000 work in adult social care, with an aggregation of staff working in London and the South East, which makes these regions especially vulnerable to a loss of labour.

‘Equally, with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland sharing a health and social care workforce, Northern Ireland is also susceptible.’

Fall in nurse numbers

Recent NHS Digital data showed EU nurse numbers have already fallen in the last year, although the Department of Health put this partly down to more rigorous language tests.

Responding to the Lancet report, Danny Mortimer, who is co-convener of the Cavendish Coalition – a group of 37 health and social care organisations including the RCN – said foreign workers were ‘hugely valued’ and their absence could not be made up for in the short- or medium-term by more homegrown staff.

‘Our view is that a future immigration system should use public service value as a key factor in assessing skill levels and setting entry requirements,' he said.

The Lancet further reports that the estimated 190,000 British pensioners living in the EU could be ‘most profoundly’ impacted by Brexit.

£650 million per year

The UK pays around £650 million per year for care provided to British people abroad – including £500 million for pensioners living abroad. This represents ‘good value for money as treatments costs for pensioners in the EU are about half of their equivalent value in the UK’, the Lancet says.

In the report, the authors also warn that without EU restrictions, the UK could become a prime target for the tobacco industry post-Brexit.

They also suggest Brexit could remove the NHS in England from EU competition law, which allows private firms to challenge for NHS contracts in the law courts, 'but the likelihood of the government taking this opportunity is unclear’.

Further information

Read the report here

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