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Brexit: new annual cost of employing overseas NHS staff to hit £490 million

Employing overseas healthcare staff could cost up to £490 million a year post-Brexit.

That’s according to RCP president-elect Dr Andrew Goddard. He warns of potential rising costs of employing overseas staff with the March 2019 deadline looming and still no resolution on how a future immigration system will work.

The potential new annual bill of £490 million is based on the most recently available full-year number of 26,335 overseas health workers joining the NHS.

With the provider sector reporting a record 100,000 vacant posts and 45% of advertised consultant posts going unfilled, the vital role of these staff is increasingly clear.

The £490 million calculation takes into account current visa and associated costs and the 2017 conservative manifesto pledge for further increases, he says, and £150 million for the 12,303 EU nationals recruited and their dependents that are currently exempt from fees.

It represents more than a tripling of today’s annual costs.

Those costs could put 3,000 students through medical school or fund half the NHS’s estimated high-risk backlog maintenance bill, Goddard says.

Goddard said: “With the NHS reporting record numbers of vacancies the service is heavily reliant on the commitment of overseas doctors, nurses and other health professionals. They address profound gaps in the UK health workforce and everything should be done now to champion, recruit and retain them in the most affordable way.

“It is increasingly worrying that we are no closer to knowing how the immigration system will work after Brexit. The potential reputational and financial implications to the NHS are huge with research showing that 45% of EU doctors are already considering leaving the UK because of Brexit uncertainties.

“If visa and other costs are to rise we are seeking urgent assurances from Government that they will be funded centrally rather than by frontline NHS trusts. We are also encouraging the continuing exemption of doctors and nurses from any visa caps.”

The figures include an estimation of dependents’ costs for workers aged 25 and over and is based on a three-year visa and a proportion of health workers renewing for longer.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, commented: “The BMA has consistently warned that Brexit will have a catastrophic impact for patients, the health workforce, services and the nation’s health.

“With less than seven months to go until Brexit, there are still no assurances on our future immigration system, and this uncertainty poses a major threat to the medical workforce.

“Around 10% of doctors in the UK are from the EEA, and our own research shows that almost half of these are considering moving to another country, 40% of whom have already made plans to leave.

“While these alarming projections from the Royal College of Physicians may show the financial costs of keeping these doctors here – the situation on the ground does not bear thinking about if they choose to leave altogether.

“Freedom of movement has allowed the NHS and academia to employ talented doctors from across the EEA, providing invaluable service to the nation’s health. It is therefore imperative that these professionals continue to be afforded the same rights to work here well beyond Brexit day.”

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