Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, has called on the UK Secretary of State of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, to work with the devolved government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure that the NHS has access to the workforce it needs after Britain exits the European Union.
Mr Carmichael highlighted the fact that more than 5% of the total workforce within the health service are EU nationals, and said the potential consequences of leaving the EU on this situation “have to be addressed”.
The Northern Isles MP also asked Mr Hunt MP whether he also planned to consult with the recruitment and employment sector on the issue.
The Herald later reported that Mr Hunt had been pictured with briefing notes for his response to Mr Carmichael’s question that warn “Hard Brexit means people fleeing the UK”. Mr Hunt chose not to mention this in his answer.
Commenting, Mr Carmichael said: “It appears that the Health Secretary wanted to tell the House that he thought a hard Brexit would be a disaster for the NHS workforce, but for some reason declined to mention it when questioned.
“This shows a lack of leadership from Mr Hunt. He has a duty to tell his colleagues and the country what he really thinks. If, like me, he thinks that leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market would create huge problems for our health service, he should say it.
“We know that a number of health and social care occupations are already on the Shortage Occupation List. The NHS has estimated that these gaps could take over a decade to fill through training domestic workers.
“Unless the Government listens to the advice of recruitment and employment experts, we could end up with hospitals not being cleaned and patients not being treated when we can no longer employ the cleaners, doctors and nurses we need.
“As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, it is vital that the Government does not implement any heavy-handed measures to curb immigration that could damage our already struggling health service.
The exchange took place this morning (4 July) in the House of Commons.
Q1. What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on ensuring that the NHS has the workforce it needs after the UK leaves the EU. (900174)
Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP: “The 150,000 EU Nationals working in our health and care services do a brilliant job and we want them to continue doing it. I am in regular talks with Cabinet colleagues to inform both domestic workforce plans and the Government’s negotiations with the EU.”
Mr Carmichael: “I am grateful to the Secretary of State. That represents something in excess of 5% of the total workforce within the NHS. This is something that is going to have to be addressed, engaging with the recruitment sector and the employment sector, and indeed the devolved administrations. Is that the way the Minister will handle this.”
Secretary of State: “We absolutely will be taking a UK wide approach. The actual numbers are slightly higher than the numbers that he talks about for England, where about 9% of doctors are EU nationals and about 19% of nurses are EU nationals, but we are still seeing Doctors and nurses coming to the UK and we need to do everything on both sides of the house to reassure them that we see them as having a bright and vital future in the NHS.”