We need an­swers on EU health staff

Im­mi­gra­tion move is wel­come but there are still no an­swers on Brexit im­pact on the NHS

The Scotsman - - Perspective -

The UK gov­ern­ment’s an­nounce­ment of the re­lax­ation of im­mi­gra­tion rules to al­low more non-eu doc­tors and nurses to live and work in the UK is to be wel­comed.

The Na­tional Health Ser­vice across the UK de­pends on the work of im­mi­grant med­i­cal staff to en­sure the cur­rents stan­dards are main­tained. Mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for highly-trained doc­tors and nurses to come here is ut­terly self-de­feat­ing and we must hope that the gov­ern­ment’s ac­tion sends a clear mes­sage to those con­sid­er­ing work­ing in our NHS that they will be warmly wel­comed. Un­for­tu­nately medics from within the EU cur­rently have no such re­as­sur­ance that they will be wel­comed to come the UK af­ter Brexit, even though our NHS des­per­ately needs them.

It is a par­tic­u­larly bleak irony of the re­sult of 2016’s EU ref­er­en­dum that, de­spite the win­ning cam­paign mak­ing bold claims that £350 mil­lion could be in­vested in the NHS ev­ery week if the UK would just break from its Euro­pean part­ners, con­cerns are now grow­ing about how pre­cisely the UK would cope if EU cit­i­zens are un­able to come here to work in the health ser­vice.

This is an is­sue not just af­fect­ing med­i­cal work­ers and the UK gov­ern­ment must be clear about that if they are to ad­dress it. Our for­mer Euro­pean part­ners would be for­given for con­sid­er­ing a UK pro­posal that, post-brexit, only those and such as those would be al­lowed into the coun­try, to be quite the in­sult.

As Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May hur­tles, seem­ingly un­stop­pably, to­wards a Brexit she still strug­gles to de­scribe, she has at least of­fered some re­as­sur­ances that those EU cit­i­zens al­ready liv­ing here will be given the right to ap­ply to stay.

But, bluntly, what hap­pens when we run out of im­mi­grant doc­tors and nurses? The health ser­vice is not sud­denly go­ing to stop need­ing new staff. In fact, with an age­ing pop­u­la­tion liv­ing longer than be­fore, we will need even more NHS work­ers.

The prob­lem about how we prop­erly sus­tain our NHS af­ter Brexit is hardy one to be placed in the cat­e­gory “un­fore­seen”. This is a sub­ject which was much dis­cussed be­fore the 2016 ref­er­en­dum and about which Brex­i­teers were con­tin­u­ally un­able to give sat­is­fac­tory an­swers.

The Prime Min­is­ter re­ally must pro­vide those an­swers – now. Some Brex­i­teers may have dreamed of a UK with the draw­bridge pulled up but that real­ity would be a dis­as­ter for the NHS.

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