NHS staff shortages could get worse if vital foreign staff are put off joining the health service because of the way Britain has handled the Covid-19 crisis, an expert has warned.
The NHS already had tens of thousands of job vacancies before the crisis spiralled out of control, with 40,000 nurse posts empty and unions crying out for more staff.
International recruitment is crucial for plugging employment gaps across the health service and figures show one in seven NHS workers were born overseas.
But Nigel Edwards, chief executive at the Nuffield Trust think-tank, said the UK won’t be the most attractive place to work following its handling of the Covid-19 outbreak.
He said officials were slow to react to the coronavirus compared to other countries, which may paint the NHS in a bad light and put health workers off joining.
Britain currently has the third highest death toll in pandemic, with 42,000 people confirmed dead – fewer only than the US and Brazil.
And a ‘disproportionate’ number of the NHS staff who have died after catching the virus have been immigrants, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has admitted.
The UK’s handling of the pandemic could exacerbate NHS staffing shortages by discouraging foreign nurses and doctors from joining, an expert fears
Nigel Edwards, chief executive at the Nuffield Trust thinktank, said the UK won’t be ‘the most attractive’ place to work following the Covid-19 outbreak
‘STILL A LOT TO DO’ TO CREATE WORLD-BEATING TEST AND TRACE SYSTEM
At the same Royal Society of Medicine briefing, Professor Sir Chris Ham, former chief executive of the King’s Fund think tank, said ‘there is still a lot to do’ to create a world class contact tracing system.
The Prime Minister pledged in May that a there would be a ‘world beating’ test track and trace operation by June 1 – but Sir Chris said this is ‘nowhere near’.
Last week the head of NHS Test and Trace, Baroness Dido Harding, admitted that the programme was not yet ‘gold standard’ after figures showed a third of people who tested positive for coronavirus could not be reached by officials or failed to provide details of their contacts.
Sir Chris, who is now non-executive chair of the Coventry and Warwickshire sustainability and transformation partnership and non-executive director of Royal Free Hospitals, said: ”As Jonathan Van-Tam (England’s deputy chief medical officer) said we are at a dangerous moment with the lockdown being eased ahead of having a fully-functioning test and tracing system in place.
‘I really worried that there is still a lot to do to develop the so-called world class or world beating test and trace system.
‘We are nowhere near that yet although a lot of work is taking place to move us closer to that.’
Mr Edwards discussed the future challenges the health service faces in a webinar hosted by the Royal Society of Medicine today.
Replying to a question about whether the Nightingale Hospital in London would be used in the event of a second wave, he noted that the NHS may struggle to staff it.
He said: ‘One of the issues is the NHS is short of staff. It had 40,000 vacancies going into the crisis. To some extent it has been hoping to fill that gap with international recruitment.
‘I’m not sure about this but I suspect we are not most attractive for health professionals now after what’s been of our performance in the the pandemic.’
Mr Edwards added the UK had been ‘several weeks behind the curb on where we should be particularly compared with some other countries’.
Critics say if the Government had acted sooner, taking the advice from Italy and Spain who were struck down by Covid-19 outbreaks before Britain, may have had a better outcome and saved thousands of lives.
The UK has been labelled the ‘sick man of Europe’ because it has the highest cumulative death toll of the continent, with almost 42,000 laboratory-confirmed coronavirus fatalities.
Ministers say they were ‘following the science’ at every stage – but scientists, including those who have advised the Government during the pandemic, say the lockdown was triggered to late.
The sheer number of Covid-19 cases, and those needing hospital care, have had a direct impact on the NHS.
Therefore, the handling of the pandemic in the UK may put off foreign workers from joining the health service, Mr Edwards suggested.
Millions of NHS staff working on the frontline to save the lives of Covid-19 patients were born in other countries.
Overall, 13.8 per cent of the 1.28million NHS staff in England say that their nationality is not British, data published by the House of Commons this month shows.
Some 5.5 per cent are EU nationals, making up nine per cent of doctors in England’s hospital and community health services and six per cent of nurses.
Figures also show there were at least 106,000 vacancies across the NHS in England before the pandemic, with over 44,000 vacancies in nursing.
A report by the Health Foundation last year highlighted critical shortages in the supply of NHS staff against demand.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the NHS was a ‘top priority’ after winning the 2019 election campaign.
While the NHS staffing issues cannot be solved through overseas recruitment alone, it’s considered crucial to help.
Mr Johnson repeated his campaign promise to deliver 50,000 more nurses, and last month introduced a new NHS visa to offer fast-track entry and reduced visa fees for doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.
HISTORIC RACISM TOWARDS IMMIGRANTS MAY BE TO BLAME FOR HIGHER BAME COVID-19 DEATHS
Historic racism and hostility towards immigrants could be partly to blame for black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) people being more likely to die from Covid-19, officials claimed today.
Public Health England (PHE) published the long-awaited second part of its report into how the coronavirus has hit BAME communities harder.
It said ‘hostile environments’ towards immigrants may have affected settled BAME communities through ‘heightened prejudice’ and ‘societal tensions’ — but did not explain how this has directly raised the risk of Covid-19.
The report also claimed a lack of trust in the NHS may have left some BAME groups reluctant to seek help early on, potentially making their disease harder to treat. It said some people were ‘fearful of being deported’ if they presented to hospital.
And it claimed that BAME NHS staff may be less likely to speak up when they have concerns about personal protective equipment (PPE) or their risk.
The report – based on discussions with 4,000 people – noted that historic racism has meant non-white communities are generally poorer so have worse health, putting them at higher risk if they catch Covid-19.
Ethnic minority people — in particular those from black, Bangladeshi or Pakistani backgrounds — have for decades been more likely to have lower-paid jobs, leaving them with less money to live healthy lifestyles.
BAME people are more likely to have conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, PHE said, which make them more vulnerable to Covid-19. And they are more likely to work in risky jobs in which they spend time in contact with members of the public, increasing the chance of them catching the disease.
Today’s report was published after officials came under fire for failing to make any recommendations for what could actually be done about the problem in their first document, published two weeks ago on June 2.
But during the pandemic, he has been criticised for failing to support workers from overseas – despite admitting they had saved his own life when he was admitted to ICU with Covid-19 in April.
Labour sought an amendment to the Immigration Bill to exempt NHS staff from paying for NHS care.
The health immigration surcharge on non-EU migrants is £400 per year and was set to increase to £624 in October. It has been long protested by unions.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted it was ‘grossly hypocritical to clap our carers one day and then charge them to use the NHS the next’.
Initially Mr Johnson defended the hefty bills and claimed the NHS would be left short of essential funding without them.
But in an overnight U-turn, he dropped the charge for health and care workers on May 21.
The Royal College of Nursing, British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal College of Physicians have since written to Mr Johnson to clarify the fee will be scrapped urgently.
The BMA also called for a total reform of immigration rules for foreign-born medical staff working in the NHS.
BMA council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel on 3 April outlining a range of measures required to support international doctors during the continuing crisis.
It for indefinite leave to remain to the families of all overseas medical staff who die in the pandemic.
It followed Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitting that ‘tragically a disproportionate number of those in the NHS that have died are people who came to make their lives here and work in the NHS’.
He said: ‘I think it’s fair to say that my admiration for those who work in the NHS, whether they come from overseas or were born here, it doesn’t matter, my admiration is unparalleled.’
It ties in with the shockingly high proportion of NHS staff who have died of Covid-19 of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
The PA news agency has verified the deaths of 166 frontline UK healthcare workers with Covid-19 since the start of March this year.
It said BAME staff account for 60 per cent of frontline healthcare worker coronavirus deaths.