The NHS was never going to get an extra £350m a week from Britain leaving the European Union. Boris Johnson, who spent the last few weeks on a bus pushing this claim, is a political corpse. But missing out on this money will not be the health service’s biggest Brexit challenge.
It looks likely that a post-Brexit Britain will control immigration more tightly than it has as part of the EU. As NHS England head Simon Stevens said during the referendum campaign, the health and care sectors depend heavily on 135,000 EU staff, about 5% of the total workforce.
Persuading European professionals to work in the UK will be harder, even if the UK ends up retaining EU freedom of movement as the price for access to the single market, given the lower value of sterling and the hostility the referendum has generated. And if the next prime minister is determined to cut immigration, some may simply be denied visas, although the King’s Fund is arguing that health and social care providers should retain the ability to recruit EU staff when there are not enough resident workers available.
The ethics of importing health and social care professionals have never been great – every country in the world needs its fair share of such people. The NHS, along with other care employers, will need to do more to home-grow staff at all levels. It will not be the only group of organisations trying to do this – the same is probably going to have to happen in IT – but if Britain is to have fewer immigrants, more Britons will have to do such jobs instead.
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