NORTHERN Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has called on the UK Government to work with devolved administrations elsewhere in the country to ensure the NHS continues to have access to the workforce it needs after Britain leaves the European Union.
It came after health secretary Jeremy Hunt was photographed with briefing notes including text stating that “hard Brexit means people fleeing the UK” – something Hunt did not mention when responding to Carmichael in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
The Liberal Democrat highlighted the fact that more than five per cent of the total workforce within the health service are EU nationals, and said the potential consequences leaving the EU would have on that “have to be addressed”.
He said it was essential that the UK health department worked with devolved government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Some sources within NHS Shetland – which already faces difficulties in recruiting to some posts in the islands – have acknowledged that Brexit will do nothing to help their chances of filling key vacancies.
“It appears that the health secretary wanted to tell the house that he thought a hard Brexit would be a disaster for the NHS workforce, but for some reason declined to mention it when questioned,” Carmichael said.
“This shows a lack of leadership from Mr Hunt. He has a duty to tell his colleagues and the country what he really thinks. If, like me, he thinks that leaving the customs union and the single market would create huge problems for our health service, he should say it.
“We know that a number of health and social care occupations are already on the shortage occupation list. The NHS has estimated that these gaps could take over a decade to fill through training domestic workers.
“Unless the government listens to the advice of recruitment and employment exports, we could end up with hospitals not being cleaned and patients not being treated when we can no longer employ the cleaners, doctors and nurses we need.
“As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, it is vital that the government does not implement any heavy-handed measures to curb immigration that could damage our already struggling health service.”
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