There's a lot going on with NHS workforce matters…

Posted by Rajiv Joshi on
It is 68 years ago yesterday, that the NHS was born.
However, whilst yesterday might  have been its birthday, it seems a more challenging time than ever for the NHS, particularly in relation to its current workforce, and that of its future.

Firstly, we are still coming to terms with the way in which Brexit will impact the NHS workforce and its existing challenge of recruitment.

Jackie Smith, Chief Executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, has declared that Brexit will detrimentally impact on the recruitment of nurses coming from the EU to the NHS, as a result of having to process EU applications in the same way it does applications from non-EU countries. This has proven to be a much longer and complicated process that poses "a major issue with the pipeline".

This is a significant concern, especially given Ms Smith's assessment that at the moment applicants coming from the EU are ten to one compared to those from other countries.

I am sure that some of this negative impact can be mitigated by the NMC increasing its resources to process applications, but as with everything at the moment it depends heavily on available budgets. These are challenging times for NHS recruitment - and not just for nursing roles.

There will be an impact on other low-skilled migrant workers, who are vital for the NHS, if they are denied entry under a points-based immigration system that has been suggested may be implemented in a post-Brexit UK. 

Secondly, we have the future of NHS funding in the balance, and the impact this could have on staffing issues in the NHS more generally. Much will depend on the next Prime Minister, and his or her government's decisions on NHS funding in the future. Michael Gove, one of the contenders for the soon to be vacant post of PM, appears to have has poured cold water on the Leave campaign's suggestion (some would say, 'promise') that the £350 million a week saved by leaving the EU would be put towards the NHS. He appears instead, to be promising £100 million a week. Even so, let's put that into context – that is £5.2 billion a year. Can he (or indeed any PM or future government) afford to promise this to the NHS if we are faced with a significantly weakened economy post-Brexit? Answers on a post-card, please.

Finally, we have just heard that junior doctors have rejected the contract that has been offered to them by the government. British Medical Association members have voted 58% to 42% against accepting the deal offered by Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

This is clearly not the end of the matter, despite the BMA's leaders previously urging its members to accept the terms announced in May. The BMA still has a mandate to take strike action, so we may still see such further action being taken. Jeremy Hunt has, at this stage, only said that the outcome of the vote will be considered. This consideration will inevitably include deciding on whether to impose the contract on junior doctors, and if so, when. The alternative is to go back to the negotiating table, and continue with what has already become a long, drawn-out affair.

We now wait to see the government's response to this latest vote, and indeed the other burning NHS workforce issues. This, we must remember, is all happening at a time when government's attention, and indeed that of the main opposition party, is sharply focused on leadership wrangles and dealing with the fall-out of the Brexit vote.

Will there be decisive leadership shown in navigating through these challenging times on NHS workforce issues, or will we see heads buried in the sand whilst other issues distract the attention of the government and main opposition? My fear is that it will be the latter. Watch this space…

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Rajiv has experience in a variety of contentious and non-contentious employment law issues.

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