Brexit is set to exacerbate the NHS staffing crisis and a new report estimates that as many as 51,000 nursing staff will be needed by the time time the UK leaves in 2021 after its transition period. 

This would mean the health services is missing the equivalent of 45 hospitals’ worth of nurses, according to the report by the Cavendish Coalition, an alliance of 36 health and social care organisations which is urging government to step up recruitment and training to mitigate the loss of EU staff.

The latest NHS workforce figures have revealed a “grim” and growing gap in key staff with 41,722 nursing roles unfilled in June.

Brexit is set to exacerbate these gaps, particularly in the harder to fill specialties like social care nursing, and is likely to have added 2,700 from lost EU staff already.

Extrapolating this over the potentially three year Brexit transition period the report estimates Brexit could contribute to as many as 10,000 additional nursing vacancies

The report was written by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, and it warns waiting times for patients are also increasing fastest in NHS Trusts which are losing more European workers, particularly nurses.

“These startling figures should be taken extremely seriously by those negotiating our departure from the EU,” said Danny Mortimer, co-convenor of the coalition and chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation.

“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.”

The report makes a series of recommendations including: a call for an “uncomplicated” immigration process, a review into workforce planning for the health and social care sector and a call for the Home Office to guarantee that its settled status programme for EU nationals will be honoured in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Commenting on the report, Nigel Edwards, chief executive at the health think tank the Nuffield Trust, said: “This is an extensive and credible report which should trouble everyone who cares about the future of health and care in the UK. Our own calculations have shown that with no further net migration or improvements domestically, social care could face a gap of up to 70,000 workers by 2025.

“The Government’s reported plan to stem all immigration of less qualified people after Brexit, and the repeated ducking of tough choices on social care, make this worst case scenario look worryingly plausible.”

Councillor Kevin Bentley who chairs the Brexit taskforce of the Local Government Association said councils were particularly concerned about the gaps.

“Eight per cent of social care staff are non-UK EU nationals and therefore represents one of the sectors most vulnerable to changes in migration rules.

“With people living longer, increases in costs and decreases in funding, adult social care is at breaking point.  The recent report of the Migration Advisory Committee reinforces the need to improve pay and conditions for social care staff in order to attract the workforce that is needed.

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A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "We greatly value the contribution of nurses to the NHS and we hope those from the EU will take up the early opportunity to secure their future in the UK.

"There are 11,900 more nurses on our wards since 2010, 52,000 nurses currently in NHS training and we have made more funding available to increase university training places.

"Later this year, we will also set out plans to reform the adult social care system to make it sustainable for the future, including how better to attract and retain staff."

Additional reporting by PA

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