For the ‘Leave’ side, the claim that Brexit would mean increased NHS funding to the tune of £350 million a week was a key argument. Indeed, memories of the divisive campaign are surely embodied by the Brexit bus, emblazoned with this very claim. However, this statement has since been retracted, and instead, Brexit has brought key questions to light due to the connection between EU immigration and NHS staffing.
This argument has particular significance due to the staggering statistics indicating the contribution of EU residents to the British Health Service – according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), an incredible 57,000 EU nationals make up the 1.2 million strong NHS workforce, equivalent to 5% of total workers. FullFact, the independent fact checking charity, has stated that 10% of all NHS doctors and 4% of all NHS nurses originate from outside of the UK, specifically the EU. According to NHS Digital statistics, there has been a 55% jump in the number of EU Nationals quitting the NHS in the 3 months following the result of the EU referendum, compared to the exact same period a year previously.
Thus the implications for the provision of public healthcare do not appear positive. However, the Government has combatted such fears with its ‘Plan for Britain’. As part of its twelve negotiating objectives, the Government has promised to guarantee rights for EU nationals in the UK, by implication guaranteeing the residency of current NHS workers who originate from the EU area. However, a growing population naturally means that ever more NHS clinicians will be required. Thus, other solutions will have to be found in order to mitigate the risk of understaffing.
Another plausible solution to falling staff numbers is the introduction of nursing apprenticeships – such qualifications will mean that students can receive a BSc nursing degree simultaneous to their operating as a healthcare professional. Championed by the Health Secretary, it is hoped that this method of learning will expand on the number of nurses available to the NHS whilst negating the need for NHS bursaries to fund such qualifications. In addition, with ‘upskilling’ becoming a key method to mitigate the lack of doctors available to the Health Service as well as reduce costs, such a studying method could have a knock-on effect in supplementing the lack of healthcare personnel elsewhere in the NHS. In this way, establishment of this new qualification may well introduce essential efficiencies to public health provision – a dominant theme of the Five Year Forward View. With the first cohort of students undertaking such courses from September 2017, time will tell what impact this innovation will have on the numbers of nursing professionals working in public health.