What could the impact of Brexit really look like for the UK health and social care workforce? [Part 1 of 2]

What could the impact of Brexit really look like for the UK health and social care workforce? [Part 1 of 2]


The impact of Brexit on the NHS has been a source of much debate since the EU referendum in 2016. As the UK steps ever-closer to its departure date, we’ve taken a look at what the impact of Brexit might really look like for the UK health and social care workforce, to bring you two articles on the subject.


Deepening staff Shortfall

The NHS currently faces a shortage of more than 100,000 staff (representing 1 in 11 posts). International recruitment has, to date, been playing a significant role in addressing this challenge.


The UK has developed an increasing dependence on EU migrants to address this staffing crisis and, within the profession, it is widely acknowledged that the UK cannot fulfil the shortfall without reaching out beyond its own borders. The number of UK health and social care workers hailing from other EU countries had been steadily rising prior to the EU Referendum, with 40% arriving between 2011 and 2015.4


Brexit is already having an impact on the ability of the NHS to tackle the problem, demonstrated recently by stark figures published by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). In 2018 just 800 EU nurses came to the UK, compared to 6,382 in 2016/17 and 9,389 in the year of the Brexit vote. Nearly 4,000 nurses left the profession last year. 

In fact, a report by the Cavendish Coalition predicts shortages within every key health and social care role after the UK leaves the EU. This includes a 9% shortfall in physiotherapy, equating to 4,000 individuals. This is in the face of an evidenced growth in demand for care.7


“Challenges around developing a sufficient workforce supply pre-date the referendum. However, turnover is reported to have increased since the vote in June 2016. This includes a large fall in job applications in nursing, dentistry and allied health care professions, as well as increased turnover in social care.” - Cavendish Coalition8


Capacity and staff rota challenges


The UK government has reportedly booked space on flights for the purpose of delivering essential medicines into the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit.


Any shortage of medical supplies is likely to require treatment substitution which would create workforce implications. Of particular concern is the potential for a shortage of medical radioactive isotopes (used in the diagnosis and treatment of many conditions, including cancer). These have a very brief shelf-life and any supply delay would mean extra MRI machine capacity would be required to scan patients who would normally have had a nuclear medicine scan. With scans and staff rotas planned many weeks in advance, this would have a major impact on staffing - before we even consider the plight of patients and the financial burden on the NHS.


The UK currently imports about 80 per cent of the medical radioisotopes used in diagnostic equipment and around 700,000 of the one million diagnostic and therapeutic procedures carried out every year rely on imports.3 Most of these come from The Netherlands, Belgium and France.



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3 https://inews.co.uk/news/brexit/brexit-no-deal-health-social-care-nhs/


4 https://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/2017/feb/21/social-care-immigration-brexit-jobs-funding


5 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/brexit-eu-nurses-nhs-shortage-quit-uncertainty-midwives-nmc-a8320516.html


6 https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/aug/21/brexit-could-result-in-115000-fewer-care-workers-freedom-of-movement




7 https://www.csp.org.uk/news/2018-11-06-report-reveals-impact-brexit-health-and-social-care-workforce


8 https://www.niesr.ac.uk/publications/brexit-and-health-social-care-workforce-uk