A new report commissioned by 36 health and social care organisations reveals that the NHS could be short of 51,000 nurses by the end of the Brexit transition period.

The report entitled ‘Brexit and the Health and Social Care Workforce in the UK,’ produced by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), forecasts a potential shortfall of around 5,000 to 10,000 nurses in the NHS in England by 2021. This reinforces the critical importance of EEA nationals in UK social care services.

When combined with current vacancy figures (41,722) this presents an alarming challenge for the sustainability of the health and care workforce should recruitment and retention issues not be addressed.

Between 2011 and 2016, the number of EEA nationals employed in social care grew by 68 per cent, or 30,600 people. There were 42,000 registered nurses working in adult social care in England in 2017, with almost a third of registered nurses (32.4 per cent) estimated to have left their role within the past 12 months.

The report stipulates that one of the biggest challenges will be for the social care workforce which relies on lower paid individuals being employed in the sector.

In the UK, roughly 5 per cent of the regulated nursing profession, 16 per cent of dentists, 5 per cent of allied health professionals and around 9 per cent of doctors are from inside the EEA.

It is crucial that any future immigration system established post Brexit allows for EEA staff to enter the health and care workforce in the UK with as much ease as possible.

Danny Mortimer, co-convenor of the coalition and chief executive of NHS Employers, says: “The health and social care sector is deeply reliant on talented colleagues from across Europe and the rest of the world so it is deeply disheartening to see these projected workforce gaps at a time of rising demand for services.

Dr Heather Rolfe, Associate Research Director at NIESR, says: “Measures designed to increase recruitment from within the UK like ‘return to work’ schemes have potential to help fill gaps left by falling migration to the UK. However, they will take some time to take effect and are very unlikely to produce sufficient numbers to make up for a shrinking EU workforce.”

Dr David Nguyen, economist at NIESR and one of the co-authors of the report, highlights the imbalance in the spread of EEA staff across the health and care system and the potential this creates for bottlenecks and severe shortages in some areas, warning;  “while half of the NHS in England staff from the UK works in clinical roles, this figure increases to two-thirds for EEA nationals. Similarly, some regions have twice as many doctors or nurses from inside the EEA than others.”

The executive summary can be found here.

Recommendations of the report: 

  • Any future immigration system should be transparent and cost effective for applicants, and responsive to the changing health needs of the population.​​​​​​​
  • National and devolved governments must review their workforce planning approach for the future.
  • The Home Office should guarantee that its settled status programme for EU nationals will be honoured in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
  • All levels of Government should work together to review career routes within social care.
  • Professional regulators should regularly review their processes for registering international professionals.
  • The UK and devolved Government should introduce measures to monitor and address the decline in the number of applications to medical schools.