More than one in 10 of Norfolk’s doctors are EU nationals, figures reveal
- Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017
Norfolk hospitals depend on the European Union for more than one in 10 doctors, new figures revealed, as uncertainty over Brexit threatens to worsen the crisis in the NHS.
Data collated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism showed 13.6pc of frontline staff - that is doctors, nurses, and midwives - at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King's Lynn were EU nationals.
This compared to 8.5pc at the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) in Gorleston, and 7pc at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH).
Unison eastern regional head of health Sasha Pearce said: 'There's a straight line between Theresa May's chaotic dealings with Brussels and the panic felt by many staff on the hospital floor.
'Norfolk's hospitals are already reeling from a serious shortage of staff - the last inspection at the QEH found that one in five nursing posts was unfilled and last month the hospital decided it didn't have enough staff to actually keep all its services running.'
All three hospitals had more than 10pc of their doctors from the EU - 13.3pc at the QEH (equating to 46 doctors), 12.1pc at the JPUH (37 doctors), and 10.4pc at the NNUH (106 doctors).
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While a high number of nurses at the QEH were also from the EU (14.5pc or 117 nurses).
The proportion of EU nurses leaving the trusts was also stark.
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Between 2017 and 2018 the QEH lost 35 EU nurses, while the JPUH lost 10. But the NNUH gained 9.
Ms Pearce said: 'It's hard to see how QEH – or any of Norfolk's hospitals – could cope with so many of its frontline staff deciding to up sticks and leave because they can't cope with life in the Tories' 'hostile environment' as we leave the EU.'
Meanwhile recruitment from the EU has 'plummeted' said Danny Mortimer, chief executive of trust representatives NHS Employers, warning that if numbers of nurses continued to fall then waiting times would go up dramatically.
'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.'
Joan Pons Laplana, a nurse at James Paget Hospital in Gorleston who independently campaigns on behalf of EU NHS staff, said: 'We feel quite deflated as EU staff and quite angry that [the government] is not solving the issue. They don't seem to realise there's five million people whose lives depend on this deal.'
He said while staff leaving had been an issue these had mostly been young people, while others, like him, had put down roots and made a family and home in the UK.
And that Brexit worries came with a backdrop of rising demand and dwindling resources in the NHS.
'We're trying to keep good care with less resources,' he said. 'But we're playing Russian roulette and you're hoping no one is going to die in your care. Then on top of that, while working hard to support the NHS, you have Brexit and we're told we may have to pay £65 to register to stay here.'
From November, EU staff working in health and social care will have early access to the government's EU settlement scheme before it launches fully in March.
NHS Employers said trusts should consider reimbursing staff the £65 fee it takes to register. No Norfolk hospitals said they were doing that as this stage.
If every one of Norfolk's NHS trusts paid for their EU staff to register for the scheme it would cost £65,845. Those who already have indefinite leave to remain or a permanent residence document would not be charged.
Mr Laplana said: 'I don't disagree there should be registration but it should have been done much sooner. And now I need to ask permission to continue living in my house. They should have thought of the EU people's rights from the beginning, we need them to feel welcome and valued. The government has done the complete opposite.'
Alex Stewart chief executive at Healthwatch Norfolk said: 'There are obviously concerns as to the impact Brexit will have on staff recruitment at hospitals across our region, which really is unknown at present.'
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the number of EU nationals working in the NHS had increased since the referendum. The DHSC 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'.
What do the hospitals say?
The county's hospitals recognised uncertainty had been caused by Brexit and all said they continued to support their staff.
Jeremy Over, director of workforce at NNUH, said: 'Whilst we appreciate that the Brexit vote has caused uncertainty for some, we continue to recruit staff from the EU, which shows how attractive NNUH is as a great place to work and how popular Norfolk is as a place to live.
'We have previously had targeted recruitment campaigns and continue to actively promote the trust to our local graduates from universities, at national job events and through targeted recruitment campaigns to other EU and non-EU countries.'
Director of nursing at the JPUH Julia Hunt said; 'The James Paget recruits staff – including doctors, nurses and a variety of other health care professionals - from the UK, the EU and from across the world. Nationally, NHS recruitment is a key issue that is affected by a number of factors and the hospital works to ensure staff recruitment and retention through a variety of measures, including advertising abroad for staff, and this will continue.
'EU staff are a valued part of our workforce and we will support each member of staff on an individual basis. As with any organisation, there is an impact when any member of staff chooses to leave, whatever the reason, but we try to ensure the Paget is a good place to work and to build a career.'
While Karen Charman, director of human resources at QEH added: 'We value every member of our workforce regardless of their nationality.
'We operate a flexible rolling recruitment programme and continuously look to recruit staff from the UK, Europe and further afield. We therefore do not anticipate Brexit having a huge impact on our overall ability to recruit.
'Regardless of their nationality we support all our non-UK born staff to settle in the UK and offer help with permits and paperwork.
'We are also offering support to our current EU staff who may have concerns about the impact of Brexit on them and so far have we have not seen higher numbers of EU workers leaving than we would expect than during the normal course of staff turnover.'