Intended for healthcare professionals


NHS recruitment from Europe is already falling because of Brexit, MPs are told

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: (Published 22 February 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j966
  1. Adrian O’Dowd
  1. London

Workforce experts have warned of signs that healthcare staff from the European Union who were considering coming to work in the NHS are choosing not to do so because of uncertainty over Brexit.

EU staff seem less keen to come to work in the UK, employers are not launching their usual recruitment drives in the EU, and existing EU staff in the NHS are considering leaving, MPs on the parliamentary health committee were told.

At an evidence session for the committee’s inquiry into Brexit held on 21 February, MPs asked about the impact on recruitment and retention of health and care staff since the referendum last June, in which the public voted for the UK to leave the EU.

Giving evidence, Daniel Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, which represents employers in the health service, said, “We are seeing a decrease in recruitment. There are lots of factors going on there. Some of it is because employers haven’t been out to recruit because of the lack of certainty, and some of it is because we are not seeing the volume of applications that we’ve previously seen; and some of it is because perhaps colleagues in those [EU] countries are making some slightly different choices.

“Some hospitals have done a lot of work with their EU nationals, and a number are reporting that the lack of certainty is making them question whether they stay in the longer term. On retention within the NHS, we have put a huge amount of effort into seeking to reassure our EU colleagues and to stress the value that we place on the contribution that they are making.”

David Lomas, vice provost (health) at University College London and head of the college’s school of life and medical sciences, giving evidence, added his concerns about the negative effect of Brexit on staff.

“I represent the Association of UK University Hospitals,” he said. “We have a tripartite mission of clinical care, research, and teaching, so we are the specialist, hard core research and development that drives innovation within the NHS.

“We are after the very highest quality of people from around the world that we need to attract to drive our research and development. We have seen concerns among our staff.”

Lomas said that he had surveyed a range of hospitals including teaching hospitals before coming to give evidence to the committee and said, “Many of the medical schools across the region of university hospitals—Glasgow and Leeds being two in particular—reported [EU] people pulling out after having been offered jobs, so we’ve lost stellar people who would have come otherwise.”

Teams applying to Europe for grants for research were also experiencing less success if they had British team members, Lomas added.

“Previously, having a British member and British expertise would help you in terms of your grant application and getting funding, but now you are less of an asset,” he told MPs. “The big issue for most of the university hospital academics is applying for grant applications, and we’ve seen [British] people bumped off grant applications to the EU.”

Later in the session other witnesses warned that the costs of travel health insurance could become too expensive for older people after Brexit if the UK came out of the European Health Insurance Card system, under which UK citizens have a right to free or subsidised medical treatment when they visit the EU.

Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, said that he had carried out a search on comparison websites for how much it would cost in insurance for a 70 year old with common multiple morbidities to visit France for one week and that this ranged from £800 to £2500 (€945 to €2955; $995 to $3115).

“It will mean effectively that they will not be able to travel—or at least they can travel but they would take a risk if something goes wrong,” he said.

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