• Details of trusts’ Brexit impact self-assessments revealed
  • Majority of trusts not concerned about impact on staff retention
  • Several organisations report increase in EU staff joining

NHS trusts are not expecting disruption to services caused by EU staff leaving because of Brexit, according to analysis by HSJ.

Indicative data (see bottom of story) obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveals only a small number of trusts have seen a reduction in their EU workforce since the referendum, with more trusts instead reporting an increase in the number of EU nationals joining since June 2016.

The UK is set to leave the EU at 11pm on 29 March, unless an extension is agreed in the next few days.

As part of preparations for a no-deal Brexit, all trusts were told to send self-assessments of the impact of a no-deal Brexit on their workforce and non-clinical goods and services.

HSJ has obtained details of the self-assessments from around a third of all trusts, including acute, community, mental health and ambulance organisations. The trusts released the information despite an attempt by the Department of Health and Social Care to stop them from publishing the details.

The remaining 150 or so trusts have either refused HSJ’s FOI request or not responded at all.

Of the 72 trusts which responded with information from their self-assessments, 49 trusts said there had been no evidence of EU staff leaving because of Brexit, and that there was little or no risk of services being impacted by a potential shortfall of EU staff. 

Several of the 49 trusts reported an increase in the number of EU employees since 2016.

These included:

Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust, which employed 2,068 staff in January 2019 compared to 1,615 in June 2016 (an increase of 28 per cent);

University Hospitals Birmingham FT, which reported a rise in EU nationals working at the trust from 829 (January 2016) to 1,056 (February 2019);

Oxford University Hospitals FT, which reported an 8.8 per cent increase in EU nationals employed at the trust from 1,431 in March 2016 to 1,557 in January 2019; and

Western Sussex Hospitals and Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals trusts, both of which said its number of consultants, ancillary staff, and “qualified middle tier staff such as band 5 nurses” had improved since 2016.

A number of trusts also said they employed so few EU nationals that there was no risk of services being impacted by a potential shortfall of EU staff.

These included:

Northumberland Tyne and Wear FT, which said it has “no evidence of higher turnover among EU nationals than the rest of our workforce”, and therefore “significant workforce risks are not anticipated”;

East Midlands Ambulance Service Trust, which has “ascertained there is no perceived impact at the present time…and no impact is expected when the UK leaves the EU”;

Northern Devon Healthcare Trust, which said “no specific service has been identified as unduly affected by a potential future shortfall of EU nationals”; and

2gether FT and Gloucestershire Care Services Trust, which both said the impact on its workforces would be “negligible given the small numbers of EU staff employed in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire”.

Eighteen trusts only provided workforce numbers to HSJ, but did not say if there had been an increase or reduction in EU staff in the last two years. 

The government has said that all EU nationals currently working in the UK will be allowed to stay indefinitely, as long as their application for “settled or pre-settled status” is accepted by the Home Office.

Plenty of trusts said they would pay the £65 cost per application of their staff, before the government reversed the charge.

But five trusts nevertheless reported a reduction of EU staff in the last two years, though they could not confirm the departures were linked to Brexit:

Walsall Healthcare Trust said it had lost 31 EU staff since June 2016, leaving the trust with 83 EU nationals currently. The trust said it had “identified staff groups” that could be “vulnerable or unsustainable” if there is a shortfall of EU nationals;

Blackpool Teaching Hospitals FT reported its EU workforce had reduced from 265 in January 2017 to 208 in January 2019 (21.5 per cent);

Mid Cheshire Trust said the general year-on-year trend indicated an increase of EU staff leaving the trust, but it could not provide figures nor measure if this was linked to Brexit; and

Fourteen EU staff left West Hertfordshire Trust in the current calendar year, while Rotherham FT said two EU nationals had left due to “personal reasons”.

The trusts were not asked to assess the impact of Brexit on their recruitment of staff, but Ashford and St Peter’s Hospital FT reported a reduction in the numbers of applicants from the EU “recently”. The trust employs 400 EU staff (10 per cent of overall workforce).

However, other trusts – such as Northern Lincolnshire and Goole FT and Frimley Health FT – said reductions in EU staff applying to their organisations did not pose a risk to workforce numbers as they target staff from the UK or outside the EU. 

Meanwhile, the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital FT said no Brexit-related instances of xenophobia had been reported, but warned that risk could “theoretically increase slightly” if “national sentiment were suddenly to harden” if a second referendum is held.

Danny Mortimer, co-convenor of the Cavendish Coalition, which is a group of health and social care organisations lobbying on post-EU referendum matters, said NHS trusts have “consistently told us they don’t expect Brexit to have a positive impact on the workforce”.

He said managing the “significant” drop-off in nurses coming to the UK from the EU was the “biggest workforce supply challenge”. 

“The number of joiners has plummeted while the number of leavers has continued to increase.

“Employers from all parts of the health and social care sector want their EU staff to stay.”

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Revealed: Government instructs trusts to withhold Brexit impact assessments