• NHS Improvement chair Ed Smith intervenes in Brexit debate
  • He warns overseas staff must not be left feeling “demoralised and diminished”
  • Letter follows Jeremy Hunt’s announcement to make NHS “self-sufficient” in doctors

Patient safety could be put at risk if overseas staff are left feeling “demoralised and diminished” as ministers negotiate the UK’s exit from the EU, NHS Improvement chair Ed Smith has warned.

The influential NHS figure intervened in the Brexit debate the day after Jeremy Hunt announced that £100m would be spent to boost the number of “home grown” doctors in his Conservative Party conference speech.

Mr Smith is the latest senior NHS figure to raise concerns about the impact of the Brexit vote on the NHS’s overseas staff, following NHS England chief executive Simons Stevens raising the issue in July.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, released by NHSI today, Mr Smith wrote: “The secretary of state is right to say we need to train more doctors from the UK.

“But, as we move towards exiting the European Union, we must ensure we don’t risk the care of people in our NHS by demoralising or diminishing the sources of health and care skills from abroad.”

Mr Smith said he “couldn’t agree more” with the health secretary’s pronouncement that the NHS’s overseas doctors “do a fantastic job and the NHS would fall over without them”.

He added: “Across the NHS, staff from around the world play a vital role and will for years to come. They deserve nothing but our most grateful thanks for the job they do.

“The exchange of knowledge, best practice and skills with other countries has never been more important, both to the NHS and other health systems that can learn from us.”

Mr Hunt was complementary about the NHS’s significant overseas workforce, around 55,000 of which are from the EU, during his speech. But he raised concerns about the NHS’s reliance on foreign workers.

Mr Hunt said: “Currently a quarter of our doctors come from overseas. They do a fantastic job… When it comes to those that are EU nationals, we’ve been clear we want them to be able to stay post-Brexit.

“But looking forward, is it right to carry on importing doctors from poorer countries that need them, whilst we turn away bright home graduates desperate to study medicine?

“Even if we wanted to carry on importing doctors, the supply is drying up. The World Health Organization says there’s a global shortage of over 2 million doctors – we’re not the only country with an ageing population.”

NHS England chief Mr Stevens wrote in The Daily Telegraph in July: “It should be completely uncontroversial to provide early reassurance to international NHS employees about their continued welcome in this country.”

One of the NHS’s most influential foundation trust chief executives, Dame Julie Moore, also voiced her support for international NHS workers yesterday.

She tweeted: “I am proud that in our [Birmingham] hospitals we have superbly talented individuals from all over the globe treating and caring for our patients.”

The HSJ Awards launched a special category to celebrate the contribution made to the NHS by staff from EU staff, which will be presented next month.

Ed Smith’s letter in full

Sir,

At the Conservative Party conference, Jeremy Hunt said our overseas doctors “do a fantastic job and the NHS would fall over without them”.

I couldn’t agree more. Across the NHS, staff from around the world play a vital role and will for years to come. They deserve nothing but our most grateful thanks for the job they do.

The exchange of knowledge, best practice and skills with other countries has never been more important, both to the NHS and other health systems that can learn from us. The secretary of state is right to say we need to train more doctors from the UK. But, as we move towards exiting the European Union, we must ensure we don’t risk the care of people in our NHS by demoralising or diminishing the sources of health and care skills from abroad.

Ed Smith

Chairman, NHS Improvement

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