The author of a report assessing the impact of Brexit on health and social care in Kent is forecasting a “bleak” future unless authorities act quickly.
Prof Amelia Hadfield of Canterbury Christ Church University says health managers need to urgently address issues such as manpower, regulation and public health requirements.
Her report draws on interviews with healthcare stakeholders to examine the effect Brexit could have upon the health and social care provision during and beyond the period of Britain’s departure from the European Union.
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Uncertainty over employment in the health sector is a key area looked at in the report.
“There is evidence that the numbers of other EU nationals applying for nursing places in the UK has fallen very sharply,” Prof Hadfield said.
“The British Medical Association, for example, has suggested this may be as high as 90%. Patterns are certainly emerging.
“While not yet definitive, there is a connection between the uncertain labour environment caused by Brexit, and the increase in EU nationals leaving key sectors across the UK.
“If this continues, this will have a major impact on health and social care trusts’ ability to both retain, and attract key health and social care workers.
“It is clear that principles for a new immigration system need to be clarified as a very early Brexit priority, rather than at the tail-end of the transition period, ensuring that national and local healthcare providers can both recruit and retain the staff it needs both from the EU, and beyond.”
Prof Hadfield is director of Christ Church’s Centre for European Studies and is the holder of the Jean Monnet Chair award. It is named after the French diplomat credited as a founding father of the European Union.
She went on: “Projections of Kent’s demographic features, which includes a higher proportion of people over 65, as well as key areas of socio-economic deprivation, suggest increasing rather than decreasing pressures on NHS and social care services in the medium and long term.
“Without a reliable, skilled workforce able to support population and patient needs, what emerges is a bleak picture in terms of health and social care provision and associated quality of life for key groups across Kent and Medway.”
A recent House of Commons Library paper revealed that after the London area, it is Kent, Surrey and Sussex which has the third highest amount of EU citizens in the labour force in the NHS at 8.1%.
NHS staffing in Kent and Medway, both high and low skilled, depends on EU nationals who choose to train and remain within the NHS.
Other areas the report examines include public health, where authorities must ensure there is no delay in co-operation between the UK and EU on planning for and tackling pandemics and other public health emergencies.
It also suggests that with different regulatory systems in the UK and EU there may be delays to the launch of new medicinal products.
Called the Kent and Medway: Health and Social Care a Brexit Impact Assessment, the report is the third to be published by the Centre for European Studies examining the potential impact of Brexit upon the county.
The previous two reports focused on making Brexit a success and the implications for small, medium and rural businesses.
On Sunday a protest rally was held in Canterbury by the anti-Brexit campaign group Pulse of Europe. It plans to stage further protests over the course of the year.