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

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


Uncertain future for existing EEA workers

Nearly 5.2 per cent of the English NHS’s 1.2 million workforce and an estimated 8 per cent of the 1.3 million workers in England’s adult social care sector have come from other EU countries.

The government published an immigration White Paper in December 2018 for a new skills-based immigration system to begin in 2021, treating EEA migrants in the same way as non-EEA migrants. In the interim, existing workers and new recruits will be required to jump through several application and visa hoops in order to retain or secure employment in the UK. During that time they will endure restricted citizenship rights such as being unable to bring dependents into the UK with them. This is likely to impact the sector's attractiveness to EEA recruits.

In the event of restricted EU migration after Brexit, a Department of Health and Social Care “worst case scenario” model predicts a shortage in the UK of between 26,000 to 42,000 nurses (full-time equivalents) by 2025/26.

Projections about the situation in social care are also concerning. Without free movement the UK would need to fill 380,000 additional social care jobs just to keep up with the needs of an ageing population.6 These findings are likely to increase concerns that the sector which provides care for elderly and disabled people is close to breaking point.

Additionally, the current EU withdrawal bill suggests that there will be appropriate arrangements in the future relationship for reciprocal professional qualifications. This does, however, hang in the balance and could impact workers who qualified outside of the UK.


Hindered Research

The life sciences sector includes health and pharmaceuticals research and employs around 5,000 EU nationals. Access to skills is a critical factor in determining investment and a recruitment crisis may stall the progress of vital research and innovation within the sector.


Uncertainly over employee rights and protections

EU legislation that covers employment rights and workplace health and safety is in discussion.

A study by Thinktank Global Future found that the sector had become increasingly reliant on low-skilled EU workers who are expected to face restrictions after Brexit. There are fears that the lifting of EU employment laws could expose these low-paid workers to even poorer working conditions.

The working time directive is also in question. This is legislation that protects patient safety and keeps workforce stress at bay by preventing individuals from working excessively long hours.


In conclusion …

The implications of Brexit on the UK health and social care workforce make for very grim reading indeed. In the case of a no-deal Brexit, the outcomes could be even more bleak. The fate of millions hangs in the balance whilst a deal is in negotiation.


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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