Julia Hartley-Brewer has criticised the previous government’s decision to cut nursing training places, saying “we have brought [a staffing crisis] on ourselves”.
As a new report commissioned by the Cavendish Coalition, a group of health and social care organisations, warns that there could be 5,000 to 10,000 fewer nurses working in the NHS in England by 2021, on top of the 41,722 existing vacancies.
Co-convenor of the coalition Danny Mortimer called on “those negotiating our departure from the EU” to take the report “extremely seriously”, adding: “The health and social care sector is deeply reliant on talented colleagues from across Europe and the rest of the world so it is deeply disheartening to see these projected workforce gaps at a time of rising demand for services.”
'Catastrophic decision to cut training places'
Protesters demonstrate against Brexit's impact on the NHS. Image: Getty
Hartley-Brewer contested the assertion that Brexit could exacerbate the problem. “There’s no evidence Brexit is the cause of the problem is there, we’ve got a massive issue with retention of the staff we’ve already got,” she said.
Guest Mark Dayan, policy adviser at the Nuffield Trust, agreed.
“There’s considerable truth to this that it’s a problem of the NHS’s own making,” he said.
“But what was true for several years up until the referendum was that getting EEA nurses in was providing a way to bring in a lot of people and fill up that gap - it’s not so much that Brexit has caused the problem, more that it’s torpedoed one of the solutions.”
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Hartley-Brewer pointed out that cuts to the number of training places for nurses began to happen in 2010, when David Cameron took office.
Analysis done two years later found that the number of nurses being trained annually had fallen by an eighth.
“Back in 2010, David Cameron made the catastrophic decision to cut the number of nurse training places,” said Hartley-Brewer.
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“We could, like most other countries, train up most of the staff ourselves, but we choose not to because it’s cheaper to recruit from abroad, get other countries to pay for their training and snap them up later. We have brought this on ourselves.”
She added: “We have tens of thousands of people in the country who are trained but have decided to leave the workforce partly because of the pay and conditions.
“We have this self fulfilling prophecy where the fewer staff we’ve got, the harder the pressure on the ones who remain and that makes them more likely leave themselves.”
'Long-term solution needs to be in the UK'
Mr Dayan added that “the long term solution needs to be in the UK, and it needs to bring to an end the practice of not training enough of our own clinical staff and using migration to make up the difference.
“Even if you got training up to the level the government was aiming for, you’d still be looking at many years before the gap is filled.”
There are currently over 52,000 nurses in training according to the government, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock has promised more funding to increase the number of training places available.