Coronavirus Worker

The Fall in Migrant Nurses Has Never Been More Felt

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Scientific experts are predicting that the UK will experience its sharpest rise in coronavirus cases over the next 2-3 weeks, leading to a huge influx of patients in hospitals throughout the country.

The NHS is bracing itself for what will be a hugely challenging time, during which resources will be stretched to their absolute limits.  

The prospect of what could happen over the coming weeks is all-the-more worrying when we consider a National Audit Office released just a few weeks ago, which showed that the NHS has 43,000 fewer nurses than it needs.

Migrant Workers Essential to NHS

One of the recommendations which has been proposed to bridge this gap is the recruitment of more workers from abroad.

Mark Dayan, who is the policy analyst at the Nuffield Trust, explained that migrant workers are essential to the NHS, and always have been.

NHS migrant workers on the frontline in July. [Image: Independent]

Dayan said that “the NHS has a long-term tendency to rely on non-UK migration” and that “the NHS is also more dependent on migrants than other sections of the economy are on average.”

These sentiments were echoed by Ben Gershlick, who is senior economist at the Health Foundation.

“In the short- to medium-term we will need more nurses from abroad than we are currently attracting in order to keep the NHS running.”

“The government must therefore ensure that our migration policy does not put barriers in the way of recruiting nurses from both EU and non-EU countries.”

“In the short- to medium-term we will need more nurses from abroad than we are currently attracting in order to keep the NHS running.”

Bear in mind that these were comments made at the beginning of the year, before the coronavirus swept across the world.

More Nurse Recruitment is Vital

Whilst Covid-19 is an unprecedented situation for health services, it does lay bare the huge difficulties which the NHS is facing in terms of staffing shortages.

Indeed, the government has asked tens of thousands of retired doctors and nurses to return to the NHS to help tackle the coronavirus, something which they might not have been forced to do if staffing levels were higher.

If there is one thing which we can take from this situation at this fairly early juncture, it is that the UK must do more to attract medics both domestically and from abroad.

European Medics are Leaving the UK

Recent statistics show that since 2018 when doctors and nurses were exempted from the Tier 2 Visa cap, 4,000 more nurses from outside the EEA joined the NHS, with recruits from the Philippines and India being highest.

However, in the same time frame, European nurses have been leaving Britain in their droves as the UK edged towards a withdrawal deal from the European Union.

Undoubtedly, the lack of clarity about what the future might hold for EU nationals in the UK has not been encouraging to EU health workers. If the UK doesn’t implement favourable immigration conditions for EU residents post-Brexit, it is highly likely that this trend will not reverse.

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage was one of the strongest proponents of Brexit

Populist media and, unfortunately, the government, have been guilty of stoking fear and negativity around immigration and migrants in recent years. At a time when we are in desperate need of migrant workers, this sort of rhetoric is at best unhelpful and, at worst, damaging to UK services and the economy, given that such words are likely to discourage migrant workers from coming to the UK.

The bottom line is that the NHS simply cannot cope long-term if more nurses and medics aren’t recruited. This stark reality has been amplified during the current coronavirus pandemic, but experts have given their warnings for many years.

The government must do more to encourage the study of nursing domestically, and also increase efforts to attract nurses (and other medics) from outside of this country if the NHS is to survive long-term.

During this particularly difficult time, the fall in migrant nurses and medics has never been more felt.

[Main Image: BBC]