A drop in net migration from the European Union to the United Kingdom could cause further problems for the UK’s already burdened National Health Service (NHS).
For the year ending September 2017, net migration of EU citizens to the UK has dropped to 90,000, marking the lowest level recorded since 2012, according to new figures.
Released on Thursday by the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), the data show that EU net migration to the UK decreased by 75,000. The number of EU citizens that are moving to the UK to work also decreased: 58,000 fewer EU nationals came to the UK to work in the year ending September 2017 than in the previous year. At 130,000, the number of EU nationals leaving the UK is the highest since 2008.
Since the UK voted to leave the bloc, reports indicate EU nationals have been less inclined to move there. Figures published since the vote have prompted concerns of a ‘Brexodus,’ although officials have noted net migration into the UK remains positive.
Nicola White, head of international migration statistics at ONS, said that the “migration of both non-EU and EU citizens are still adding to the UK population.”
Commenting on the ONS figures, Alp Mehmet, vice chairman of think tank Migration Watch UK, said, “There are still nearly 100,000 more EU citizens arriving than leaving. This is hardly a ‘Brexodus.’”
White added, “Brexit could well be a factor in people’s decision to move to or from the UK, but people’s decision to migrate is complicated and can be influenced by lots of different reasons.”
Also on Thursday, the NHS released figures showing that vacant positions combined with increasing demand for services is causing problems that some worry will overwhelm the health system.
The figures show that nearly 10% of NHS’s 1.2 million positions remain unfilled. At the same time, demand is rising: 5.6 million people sought out accident and emergency services in the last quarter of 2017, a quarter of a million more than the same period last year.
Ian Dalton, Chief Executive of NHS Improvement, emphasised the issue of rising demand. “More people than ever before are going to emergency departments up and down the country at a time when providers are already having to tighten their belts,” he said.
In response to the NHS figures, Nigel Edwards, chief executive for the independent health charity Nuffield Trust, said the vacancy statistics “show no improvement in the dangerous shortage of nurses, and a worrying picture for doctors.”
There are concerns that the issues will be exacerbated by migration changes, particularly among EU health workers. Foreign nationals comprise more than 12% of NHS staff, with London being particularly reliant on foreign workers. As of September 2017, around 10,000 EU citizens had quit the NHS since the Brexit vote.
According to figures obtained by Bloomberg from the UK’s General Medical Council, the number of doctors coming from the EU to the UK in 2017 reached the lowest point in eight years. The data show that in 2014, there were more than 4,600 doctors from EU nation that registered to work in the UK, a figure that dropped by 26% to under 3,500 in 2017.
Italian Andrea Pevere told Bloomberg, “If you want to build a future, you just think twice about choosing the UK for a long-term job.”
Demand is expected to continue to rise over the coming years, which could worsen the staff shortage.
“It would be unrealistic to assume the demand which has been building for a number of years is going to reverse,” Dalton said. “Local health systems need to work together to plan for capacity in future years that can meet the increasing levels of demand that we will continue to see.”