Brexit causes flight of European health workers from the NHS

A growing number of EU nationals working in the National Health Service are leaving England as a consequence of the referendum on British membership in the EU.

Photo: Duncan Hull/Flickr

The number of EU workers joining the British state healthcare provider (National Health Service, NHS) dropped by 18 percent last year, while those leaving the NHS has increased by 19.6 percent, according to the latest figures released from the body itself.

The data refers to England only, and it compares periods from September to September. The last report goes from September 2016 to September 2017, i.e. the first complete year after the Brexit referendum, when the British voted to leave the European Union.

In absolute terms, this was the first year since 2012 that the number of EU workers entering the English NHS was lower than in the previous period. However, the trend differs from country to country. Croatia, Spain and Estonia see the highest drops in joiners to the English health service during the last period, while Italy, Iceland and Latvia saw the most significant increases in workers leaving the system.

The European staff makes up 5.6% of all workers in the NHS, which is the UK’s largest single employer.

The debate on NHS spending and payments to the EU was one of the main factors during the EU referendum and it is still a major issue in the Brexit negotiations. Different UK medical institutions have claimed that patients’ care must be preserved in the future agreement. The Brexit Health Alliance has warned that a no-deal scenario will have “severe” consequences for patients. Health staffing is one of the key factors. 

“In the short to medium term,” said the Chief Executive of NHS Employers, Danny Mortimer, “It’s simply not feasible or realistic to meet our needs through domestic recruitment alone.” The institution congratulated the UK government for its decision to ensure the rights of the EU citizens living in the UK. But it also warned that a “flexible” immigration system must be guaranteed.