Scotland and Wales demand overhaul of plan to retain NHS staff post-Brexit

Plans to help EU nationals working in the NHS remain in the UK after Brexit must be widened to cover their families, according to the Scottish and Welsh health secretaries.

NHS (Photo: iStock)
NHS (Photo: iStock)

The EU settlement scheme is open to all health and social care workers who wish to continue working in the UK after Brexit by applying for ‘settled status’.

However, the pilot stage of the scheme, which opens today, has not been extended to family members of those applying to live and work in the UK.

Health minsiters for Scotland and Wales warned they would refuse to promote the scheme unless it was broadened to include families.

EU workforce

In a letter to the minister of state for immigration Caroline Nokes MP, Welsh health secretary Vaughan Gething and Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman said they were ‘disappointed’ that the home office did not include family members in the pilot.

'We firmly believe that the potential benefits of including family members far outweighs the administrative difficulties you cite…for not including them,' the letter reads. 'If you are not able to agree to this, we would not feel comfortable actively promoting the scheme to health and social care staff in Wales and Scotland.'

They argued that - in its current form - the settlement scheme ‘is much more likely to deter, rather than encourage, our EU staff from taking this opportunity to clarify their immigration status’ ahead of Brexit on 29 March 2019.

A copy of the letter was also sent to health and social care secretary Matt Hancock.

Research published last month warned that Brexit could trigger a 'staffing crisis' in the NHS. Around 17,000 EU nationals work in health and social care in Scotland, while Wales has more than 1,400 - 2% of the NHS workforce.

EU settlement scheme

The EU settlement scheme pilot will run from 1 November 2018 until 21 December 2018. Applications via the pilot scheme are open to anyone working in the health and social care sector in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales from the 29 November. Prior to this, applications are open only to NHS employees in north-west England.

The scheme will open fully in March 2019 to all EU citizens wishing to live and work in the UK.

This means that health and social care workers who are granted settled status via the pilot scheme will have to wait a minimum of three months before their family are given the chance to join them in the UK.

A Home Office spokesperson said that to control numbers in the pilot, family members were not able to apply 'unless they are themselves eligible through their employment with, or support from, the participating organisations’.

Family members are likely to be allowed to apply through the settlement scheme when it is rolled out beyond the pilot phase.

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