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Brexit negotiations must prioritise NHS staff, health leaders warn

Health leaders have urged prime minister Theresa May to give the UK’s ability to recruit and retain NHS staff the utmost priority in Brexit negotiations.

The BMA has consistently lobbied for the futures of EU staff working in the NHS to be guaranteed and the Cavendish Coalition, a group of 34 social care and health organisations, has written to the secretaries of state for the home department, exiting the European Union and health to stress the concerns.

In the letter, Cavendish Coalition co-convenor Danny Mortimer said the organisation would work with the Government to ensure a future immigration system where public service value is a key factor in assessing skill levels, rather than assessments being made on the basis of salary.

The coalition is also calling for a ‘straightforward and responsible transitional system’ which ensures people from the EEA (European Economic Area) who come to the UK before a set cut-off date are guaranteed leave to remain.

Mr Mortimer said: ‘It is absolutely critical that the Government takes all possible measures to safeguard the supply of health and social care workers needed to continue delivering safe, high-quality care.

‘We are ready and available to support the Government in a way [that] allows it to plan a future immigration system which assesses skill levels based on public service value, as opposed to salary. This will be central to the PM’s commitment to make the UK a magnet for global talent.

‘It is also vital that any transitional system provides clarity and certainty so that people entering the UK are clear on their status – as certainty supports stability and sustainability in health and social care.

‘Such a system must be flexible enough to allow social care and health to recruit from Europe when staffing needs cannot be met through additional domestic recruitment and training.’

 

‘Profound uncertainty’

On Wednesday, BMA council chair Mark Porter said doctors, and the health service as a whole, had been left with a ‘profound and gnawing uncertainty’ as Ms May triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – signalling the beginning of negotiations for Britain to leave the EU.

Speaking in Parliament, at the same time as Britain’s ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow delivered the UK’s resignation letter to the EU, Ms May formally announced the beginning of the process – saying Brexit would be a ‘great turning point’ and that the UK has a ‘bright future’.

Ms May said she would fight for the best deal for all people in Britain, including EU citizens who had made their homes in the UK.

But the prime minister was able to offer no further certainty for NHS staff from across the EU than suggesting she would ‘seek to guarantee the rights of EU citizens already living in Britain’ as ‘a priority’.

 

A catastrophic loss

Dr Porter told members in an email: ‘We are left with a profound and gnawing uncertainty – felt most acutely, of course, by our European colleagues, but also by the whole of a health service that would collapse without their contribution.

‘Around 22,000 GMC-registered doctors with a licence to practise obtained their qualification from another EEA country, and more than half work in the NHS.’

The status of EEA nationals working in the UK has been source of major concern since the UK voted to leave the EU last June.

A BMA survey earlier this year found that 42 per cent of EEA doctors working in the NHS were thinking of leaving the UK as a result of the Brexit vote.

Dr Porter said that would be a ‘catastrophic loss’.

He added: ‘The Government needs to understand that our European colleagues are not temps, they’re not stopgaps or bargaining chips. They are people, and they are doctors, and they are valued by their colleagues and patients. Our Government should value them too.’

The Brexit negotiations are expected to take two years and could involve arrangements for trade and legislation in the interim.

More news: EU’s chief Brexit negotiator references NHS doctors and nurses

Find out more about how Brexit affects the medical profession

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