In recent years many employment sectors in the UK have come to heavily rely on recruitment from Europe, begging the question why it has taken the government so long to commission the recently announced review into the impact of EU migration on the UK's society and economy; a review that will only be published six months before the UK must leave the EU.
EU nationals play an invaluable role in health and social care in the UK, and have been vital in addressing the staff shortages seen across the NHS. There are around 135,000 EU nationals working in the NHS and adult social care system in England alone, staffing our A&Es, our GP surgeries, looking after elderly patients in care homes and conducting vital medical research.
Recruiting from the EU has been vital in dealing with staff shortages in health and social care, and the NHS is dependent on EU workers to provide a high-quality, reliable and safe service to patients. Put simply, our health service would not be able to cope without them.
New figures have revealed the already crippling staff shortages the health service is facing, with more than 86,000 vacant posts across the NHS between January and March 2017, which many have suggested is an underestimation.
Poor workforce planning from successive governments has left the NHS in desperate need of more doctors, while the failure to meet the growing patient demand with sufficient funding and resources, has contributed to the overwhelming recruitment and retention crisis in our health service. In a recent BMA survey, seven in 10 hospital doctors reported rota gaps in their departments while almost half of GPs have reported GP vacancies where they work.
The unsustainable pressures facing the NHS mean we are already seeing fewer doctors in training are choosing to apply to or remain in the NHS, while at the other end of the scale, the unsustainable workloads have led many experienced doctors to retire early, or work abroad.
The health service is more reliant than ever on overseas recruitment, with the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, making it clear that we will need to recruit around 2,000 more GPs from abroad to meet staffing targets.
Sadly there is a real risk that Brexit will only worsen the current staffing crisis across the health service. More than four in ten doctors told the BMA that they were considering leaving the UK in light of the referendum result, and we know that non-UK workers have already begun to leave the NHS since we voted to leave the EU.
The most recent set of migration figures, which cover six months since the referendum, also suggest that fewer people from the EU are choosing to come to Britain, as net migration from the EU fell by 51,000.
But this isn't just about numbers, these highly skilled professionals have enhanced the diversity and skill mix in the UK health system. A diverse profession with a wide range of experience and expertise is beneficial to patient care.
To protect the future of the NHS, the government must work with health organisations to ensure robust transitional arrangements are in place, and that the immigration system remains flexible enough to recruit doctors and other NHS staff from overseas, especially where the resident workforce is unable to produce enough suitable applicants to fill vacant roles.
Dr Andrew Dearden is a GP and treasurer of the British Medical Association (BMA)Suggest a correction