The true scale of Southwark’s reliance on frontline NHS workers from the EU has been revealed, raising concerns that a no-deal Brexit could deepen the NHS staff crisis and cause delays for patients.
New data obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism from NHS Digital shows that each of Southwark and Lewisham’s NHS Trusts workforces stand to be affected by the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.
Across NHS England as a whole, around five per cent of the NHS’ workers are from the EU, but this figure become markedly higher in London – and increases when looking specifically at frontline staff – doctors, nurses, and midwives.
Fifteen per cent of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust’s frontline workers are EU nationals, with 12.5 per cent at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, 10.7 per cent at Lewisham and Greenwich Foundation Trust and 7.9 per cent at South London and the Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. At Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, EU nurses are leaving at a higher rate than non-EU nurses.
The extent of the NHS’ reliance on EU workers comes as NHS officials warn recruitment from Europe has ‘plummeted’, according to Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, who said: “We would have to close capacity because we couldn’t man the beds or run the theatres.
“Costs would go up because we had to rely on agency staff and they are more expensive.”
Uncertainty over EU has exacerbated a staff recruitment crisis across the NHS. There are now 41,000 nursing vacancies across England – a shortage level that the Royal College of Nursing warned last year would make the NHS “unsafe” – and annual turnover is more than 15 per cent.
There is also a shortage of doctors, with 11,500 vacancies recorded in the latest figures from NHS Improvement figures, up from 10,800 the year before.
Responding to the Bureau’s findings, a Department for Health spokesperson said the number of EU nationals working in the NHS had increased since the referendum.
The Department of Health spokesperson said the “NHS is preparing for all situations”, but stressed that EU staff in the NHS “will be among the first to be able to secure their settled status”.
A spokesperson for King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “In the past year the Trust has actively reduced its vacancy rate, particularly in nursing where King’s has the lowest vacancy rate in London.
“In terms of leaving the European Union (“Brexit”), the Trust is following the guidance issued in August by the Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Care.”