Health and social care services face a “perilously uncertain future” when the UK cuts its ties with the EU in January, a report has warned.
The report by the Nuffield Trust says barriers to migration, disruption to medicines and economic slowdown could put the UK’s health and care system at risk.
Mark Dayan, Brexit Programme lead at the Nuffield Trust, said: “There are a particular set of fairly immediate issues which should be in sharp focus – from the double whammy of COVID-19 and Brexit related workforce shortages and economic fallout to the very real danger of supply chains of medicines and medical devices being disrupted.”
As well as warning about the loss of medical supplies, the longer term impact on medical research and the effects of a prolonged economic slowdown, the report highlights the risk to the social care workforce, stating: “The vulnerable social care sector will immediately find itself blocked from recruiting staff from the EU because of a new unilateral migration policy, exacerbating dire workforce shortages.”
Nadra Ahmed OBE, executive chairman of the National Care Association, told CHP: “We can be sure there will be an impact on our sector as a direct result of Brexit but much of it will depend on the thoroughness of this government to ensure that they can minimise any disruption. We have already seen the challenges to workforce recruitment following the announcements from the Home Office, which ignores all evidence clearly showing we need to be on the Shortage Occupation List to enable us to recruit from outside the UK if/when we are unable to attract a domestic workforce. The vacancy rates remain well above 100,000 throughout the country.
“The concerns around medication and supplies will be very much in our minds and of course assurances that testing capacity will not be impacted in any way. This is already a worrying time for all providers so we can only hope and pray that the impact of a no deal Brexit will not further impact on our ability to support our most vulnerable citizens.”
Martin Green OBE, CEO of Care England, added: “We are now on the brink of our departure from the EU and there are still so many unknowns. It is vital that the government give the care sector clear information and the support we need to navigate the new world post Brexit.”
Raj Sehgal, managing director of Armscare Ltd, said: “The key findings of this latest report only serve to echo previous reports that have been published that are falling on the deaf ears of our Home Secretary who is solely focused on immigration statistics rather than the needs of the country.”
The Norfolk-based MD noted the 70% decline in job applicants cited in the report was far greater in rural areas and has led to an increased reliance on agency staff.
“We can build new facilities but if they can’t be staffed adequately and safely then that investment will falter,” Raj said.
He urged the government to “wake up and smell the coffee” and be “proactive to the catastrophes that await us and not react with do little, too late gestures.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We stand behind our hard-working health and care workers and are incredibly grateful for all their work in the fight against coronavirus. We’re supporting them across the immigration system, and many are now exempt from paying the Immigration Health Surcharge.
“Within the new points-based immigration system nursing assistants and senior care workers will be able to come to the UK with a skilled worker visa.
“We are also clear immigration is not the solution to addressing staffing levels in the social care sector and it is reasonable to ask UK employers to provide training for, and to support their workers to develop.”