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Leaving the EU: NHS Workforce

Volume 618: debated on Tuesday 20 December 2016

4. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the UK’s decision to leave the EU on the NHS workforce. (907975)

There are currently 127,000 staff from the EU doing a vital job for patients in the NHS and social care system. In this year of Brexit, we salute their excellent work and remain confident that we will be able to negotiate for them to continue it in the future.

There are more than 50,000 EU nationals working as nurses and doctors throughout the United Kingdom, along with 80,000 in the social care sector. The NHS already faces extensive rota gaps owing to a shortage of senior and junior doctors. Will the Secretary of State join our First Minister in demanding an unequivocal guarantee that EU nationals who are already living here will have the right to remain?

That is exactly what we intend to achieve through negotiations, but we must remember the British citizens, including people from Scotland, who are living in the EU and whose rights we also wish to protect. That is why the Prime Minister has made a big point of saying that she wishes to negotiate the issue at an early stage in order to give certainty to those people.

We are not going to leave the EU for two and a half years, but I want the Secretary of State to grip GP services in Lincolnshire now and to start training more doctors. The Pottergate surgery in Gainsborough is closing, potentially throwing hundreds of people out without a GP, and there is a shortage of 80 GPs against a target of 915 in Lincolnshire, and only six out of 30 training places were taken up recently. Will the Secretary of State now grip the GP services in Lincolnshire for the sake of our people?

Order. The hon. Gentleman has rather cheekily brushed aside the part of the question that does not suit his purposes. Only to focus on half a question is very cheeky; we will allow him to get away with it on this one occasion only.

I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend about this because the reality is that we increased the number of GPs by 5% in the previous Parliament, and in this Parliament we are planning an increase of another 5,000, which will be the biggest increase in GPs in the history of the NHS, and will go along with considerable extra resources.

I will focus on the half of the question that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) missed out. The other day I had a meeting with some constituents who told me that they were so pleased that we were leaving the European Union because it meant that the extra £350 million could be used to reopen the A&E department at Bishop Auckland. Has the Secretary of State found that £350 million yet?

The hon. Lady might have noticed that I personally did not talk very much about that £350 million. Whatever resources we have post-Brexit will have to be set in the overall economic context, but of course the great thing is that, post-Brexit, that will be a decision for this Parliament.

Many members of the NHS workforce across Bedford and Kempston come from the EU, but many others come from Caribbean countries, the Philippines, India and many countries in Africa. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that, in the future, people from those countries are given equal access to work in our NHS as that for EU nationals?

The benefit of Brexit will be that we can take precisely such decisions in this Parliament, because we will get back control of our borders. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the very important work done by people from outside the EU in the NHS. Because I happened to meet the Philippines ambassador last week, I want to pay credit particularly to the Filipino workers in the NHS and the social care system, who do a fantastic job.

May I start by extending my party’s sympathies to the victims of the Berlin attack?

Much of what we have heard today is about keeping those who are already here, but BMA Scotland has said that insecurity is stopping EU nationals from taking up posts that really need to be filled. This is an urgent problem, so does the Secretary of State agree that it is time to create some certainty for EU nationals and to avoid a self-made workforce crisis?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, which is why it is extremely frustrating that the current signals from the EU are that it is unwilling to bring forward negotiations about the status of EU nationals here, and indeed that of British nationals in the EU. No one from either side of the Brexit debate has ever said that there will be no immigration post-Brexit; they have simply said that we will control that immigration ourselves through this House and through decisions made by the British people at general elections.

On behalf of the official Opposition, may I echo the words of the Secretary of State in relation to the tragic events in Berlin and send our condolences to the people there?

The Institute for Employment Studies has today warned that Brexit could make nursing shortages even worse. That follows The Times reporting that

“applications for nursing, midwifery and allied health courses were down by about 20%”

and that in some institutions applications had halved. The decision to scrap nurse bursaries is having the consequences that every expert predicted it would. With the uncertainty of Brexit looming over our workforce, now is not the time to be taking a massive gamble with our nurses so, in the light of the evidence, will the Secretary of State now agree to scrap that disastrous policy?

I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that the purpose of that policy was to allow us to train more nurses; in fact, we will be training 40,000 more nurses during this Parliament. We have more than 11,000 more nurses in our NHS wards, and at Countess of Chester hospital—the hon. Gentleman’s own hospital—there are 172 more nurses than in 2010.