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Leaving the EU: NHS Workforce

Volume 626: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2017

1. 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)

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.

The Secretary of State will be aware that that figure represents in excess of 5% of the total workforce in the NHS. This matter will have to be addressed, engaging with the recruitment sector, the employment sector and, indeed, the devolved Administrations. Is that how he will handle it?

We absolutely will be taking a UK-wide approach. The numbers for England are actually slightly higher than those the right hon. Gentleman talks about—about 9% of doctors and about 19% of nurses are EU nationals. However, we are still seeing doctors and nurses coming to the UK, and we need to do everything in all parts of this House to reassure them that we see them as having a bright and vital future in the NHS.

If students with four As at A-level continue to find it very difficult to get into a medical degree in this country, is it any wonder that we have to import them from Europe?

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. That is precisely why last year we increased the number of medical school places with, I think, the second biggest hike in the history of the NHS—a 25% increase. We absolutely do believe that this country should be training all the doctors and nurses that we need.

The truth is that EU staff no longer want to come here. Doctors and nurses are leaving in their droves, and thanks to the abolition of the NHS bursary, our nurses of tomorrow are going to have to pay to train. When will the Secretary of State understand that this staffing crisis has not materialised out of thin air but is directly attributable to his actions and the actions of his Government over the past seven years?

The hon. Lady may have noticed a little thing called Brexit that happened last year, which is the cause of understandable concern. If she looks at the facts about how many doctors came from the EU to the NHS in the year ending this March, in other words, post-Brexit, she will see that 2,200—[Interruption.] Someone asked about nurses. I happen to have that information here: 4,000 nurses joined the NHS from the EU in the year ending in March.

One of the consequences of free movement in the European Union is that proportionately we take in rather fewer doctors, in particular, and fewer nurses from the Indian subcontinent and other places. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the capacity to revisit the strong relationship we had with those workforces in the immediate post-war years?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We want to attract the brightest and best into the NHS from all over the world, wherever they come from, if there is a need. The only caveat I would make is that we have imported a number of doctors from very, very poor countries that actually need those skills back home. We have to recognise that we have international responsibilities to make sure that we train the number of doctors and nurses we need ourselves.

The Secretary of State should know that staff shortages are not just bad for patients—they are also costing a lot more, in Nottingham and elsewhere, because of locum and agency costs. Is it not clear that if we start restricting access from the EU for staffing purposes, it will cost the NHS an absolute fortune more?

Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that there is no intention to restrict access to vital professions such as the clinical professions in the NHS post-Brexit. We have said many times that we will have a pragmatic immigration policy. The long-term solution is not to depend on being able to import doctors and nurses from anywhere, because the World Health Organisation says that there is a worldwide shortage of about 2 million clinical professionals; we are not the only people facing the challenge of an ageing population.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s words and his deeds in terms of recruiting more doctors and nurses domestically, but as he said, hospitals such as mine in Basingstoke rely on the best and the brightest from around the world. What can he do to make sure that when we need to recruit nurses, in particular, we have the travel permits and work permits available to enable them to move in swiftly rather than having to wait for long periods of time?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point. Nurses are, in fact, on the Home Office’s tier 2 shortage occupation list, and they will remain so for as long as we need them to do so. The bigger issue is that for a long time we have relied on being able to import as many doctors and nurses from the EU as we need to, and that has meant that we have not trained enough people ourselves. That is bad for EU countries and for our own young people.