MPs warn a Brexit NHS staffing crisis is brewing, but Hunt downplays fears

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has downplayed fears that Brexit will lead to a collapse in the recruitment of European Union health professionals.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has downplayed fears that Brexit will lead to a collapse in the recruitment of European Union (EU) health professionals. 

Picture: iStock

Labour and the SNP warned an ‘NHS staffing crisis’ is brewing after it emerged that the number of EU nationals registering as nurses in England has dropped by 92% since the referendum vote last June.

But Mr Hunt blamed this fall on tougher language rules and said the NHS is still a ‘great option’ for EU nurses to work.

Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw challenged Mr Hunt to guarantee the rights of EU nationals working in the NHS post-Brexit.

The SNP’s health spokesperson, Philippa Whitford, also raised concerns that leaving the EU could plunge Britain into a staffing crisis in healthcare.

She said: ‘Workforce is one of the biggest challenges right across the nations of the UK, and particularly in rural areas.

‘So, with a 92% drop in EU nurses coming to the UK and a 60% increase in the number that left last year, how do you plan to avoid an NHS staffing crisis immediately post-Brexit, before there is time to train anybody extra?’


Mr Hunt blamed the fall on stricter language tests, which he said are necessary to ensure patient safety.

He said: ‘You have to be careful in your use of statistics. You will know that one of the reasons why there has been a drop in the number of nurses coming from the EU is because, prior to the Brexit vote, we introduced much stricter language tests, because this is better for the safety of patients and an important thing that we need to get right.

‘But we are confident that nurses will continue to want to work in the NHS because it is a great place to work.’

Mr Hunt added that the number of doctors joining the NHS from the EU was higher in the four months following the referendum result than in the same four months the previous year.

NHS Mandate

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth asked Mr Hunt why the newly published NHS Mandate, which sets out the Government’s objectives for the health service, makes no reference to Brexit.

He urged the government to guarantee the rights of EU citizens working in the NHS when Article 50 is triggered later this month.

He said: ‘I know the secretary of state is not actually a member of the cabinet Brexit committee, but can he use his considerable influence with the prime minister to ensure that when she triggers Article 50 next week she gives an absolute guarantee to guarantee the rights of all those EU workers in our NHS?’

Mr Hunt replied: ‘First of all, let me reassure you that I will be attending the Brexit committee when it is relevant to the NHS and in fact I’ll be attending it this week because there are issues relating to the NHS that will be coming up.’

Further information

In other news