Both the Conservatives’ and Labour’s migration policies would worsen understaffing in the NHS and social care, according to a report by think tank the Nuffield Trust.
In a report published today, the Trust revealed that the proportion of hospital staff born outside the UK has doubled from one in 8 in 2000/01, to almost one in four (23.5%) in 2018/19.
People born abroad make up 19% of all workers in health and social care overall, and overseas workers accounted for 50% of the increase in that workforce between 2009/10 and 2018/19.
Health service staffing
It said that ending freedom of movement for EU citizens after Brexit would reduce the numbers of health workers coming to Britain.
The Conservatives have promised to end freedom of movement for EU workers but introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system once Brexit is complete.
The Labour manifesto pledged to scrap the 2014 Immigration Act and restore the overseas domestic workers’ visa, but would only guarantee freedom of movement if a further referendum led to the UK staying in the EU.
The report warned: “There is a very real risk that the migration policies proposed in the 2019 general election will make it more difficult to bring staff into the NHS and social care from the EEA. This could not come at a worse time: both sectors have both deep staffing shortages and expanding demand.
“Based on the trends over the last 20 years, an obvious concern is that these migration changes for people from the EEA will result in a slowdown in the migration of staff similar to that seen with non-EEA migrants after the tightening [of immigration rules] around 2010.”
The Trust estimates that at least 5,000 nurses must be recruited from abroad to keep up with the health and social care needs of an ageing population. The NHS in England currently has around 100,000 vacancies for permanent posts.
Authors Mark Dayan and Billy Palmer argue that social care is “the most exposed sector of all”, however.
“Neither party has discussed exemptions for it, yet low-paid care workers are especially likely to be blocked off by a selective system,” they said. They estimate that the English social care system would need around 90,000 extra workers to meet current requirements.
Dayan added: “This analysis reveals just how international the NHS truly is, and that without migration staffing shortages would be almost unimaginable.
“The Conservatives and Labour have made encouraging assurances to enable some foreign NHS staff to arrive after we leave the EU. But these pledges will fall flat if not matched with promises to recruit social care staff from abroad and expand to other vital NHS staff beyond hospital nurses and doctors too.
“With the NHS continuing to be a top priority for voters, restricting migration could backfire spectacularly given we already have dire shortages and more staff are desperately needed.”