Jo Sellick discusses his opinion on the future of the NHS, which bravely faces Brexit and Boris Johnson, migration limitations and an ageing population
It is no surprise that our NHS is currently under immense pressure. As well as the day-to-day running of the organisation, NHS workers are dealing with a growing, ageing population as well as the evolving healthcare needs of UK citizens and escalated costs, which are all making it more difficult and costly than ever to run our National Health Service.
Throw Brexit, and the current political uncertainty our country is facing into the mix and it is no wonder the national institution is struggling, and I fear the worst is yet to come.
For years politicians in Westminster have been failing our NHS and have put its needs on the back burner in favour of discussing Brexit and the terms of our exit from the European Union. Instead, they should have been thinking about the needs of our own country, and working with businesses – including our NHS – to mitigate worry and any risks that may be unearthed as a result of the EU Referendum decision in 2016. Instead, we are now faced with an NHS that is understaffed and underfunded, and with our EU exit date imminent, I feel we need to act now to ensure the NHS has the support needed to get through unscathed.
It is great to see that Boris has spoken out about this need since taking on his new position as PM, pledging an extra £1.8 billion of extra funding on top of what was already promised. This much-needed support has already been allocated to hospitals across the country, and I know will provide some much-needed respite for some departments in critical need. But is it enough? The NHS’s budget has barely increased over the past few years so I feel this increase was already overdue, and am concerned that it still won’t be enough to get us through the next 12-18 months.
The main issue currently facing the NHS is the increased talent shortage it will likely see as a result of Brexit. In November last year the King’s Fund, the Health Foundation, and the Nuffield Trust predicted that NHS staff shortages could reach 250,000 by 2030, which could be catastrophic for the organisation. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also recently reported that we saw a drop of 132,000 citizens from other European Union countries working in Britain since the Referendum, a number that will likely increase should we leave the EU in October without a deal in place. This, coupled with a growing unemployment rate paints a worrying picture for our workforce after our exit date and tells me we need some solid strategies in place to successfully navigate the choppy waters ahead.
Without EU migration we will likely face an even greater shortage of skilled candidates that can and want to work in our NHS, and there are only two ways we can rectify this. Ideally, the government should introduce an immigration policy that favours skilled workers from inside and outside of the EU that will enable us to attract and recruit the relevant skills to keep our NHS functioning and assist in its future development. Boris, therefore, needs to widen his promise to ease UK immigration restrictions to include doctors, nurses and front line NHS staff to ensure the UK remains an attractive and welcoming option.
If this doesn’t happen we need to look at ways of up-skilling our own workforce and utilising homegrown talent to our advantage if we have any hope of keeping our NHS staffed to optimum levels.
I believe that apprenticeships could be a successful way of helping us to plug this gap. In July 2019 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported a 6.6% rise in the number of apprenticeships that were started in the 2018/19 academic year, which is a positive step forward to up-skilling more of our UK citizens. If the government could think of ways to improve this number further and work with apprenticeship schemes and higher education facilities to attract more students, I truly believe that we could greatly increase the number of candidates available to the NHS.
In an ideal world, we would be able to implement both of these strategies post-Brexit and entice a steady flow of skilled candidates to our NHS to fix the current shortage it is facing. Not only would this go some way to improve the current UK skills crisis, but it would also ensure that we do not alienate exceptional talent from the EU and further afield that have made our NHS – and other businesses and industries – such a huge success.
If this isn’t possible then the government needs to ensure we are all prepared, but for now, all we can do is wait. Boris has committed himself to re-negotiating a different deal with the EU – which I think is very unlikely. If he is successful we must ensure that any deal that is struck works for all parties involved. But I fear we should start preparing for the worst.
Boris seems to agree. In his short time in office, he has already started to turn his efforts to matters that are just as important, like our NHS, rather than focus all of his time on Brexit, a move that I think will be very popular with the electorate. Allocating more money and resource to the NHS and other public services is a great first step, but we need to be doing more to prepare for the long-term impact Brexit could have on our workforce and economy.
An initial fall in labour is inevitable, but if we work now to put strategies in place I firmly believe we can close the UK skills shortage in a matter of years, and secure the future of our great NHS.
To do this we need to implement an immigration policy that is attractive to healthcare workers across the globe, give our NHS more funding and support to relieve the pressures it is currently under and inject some certainty into our economy to show that the UK is still an attractive place to live and work.
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