Why Spanish health workers won't be coming back to plug vital gaps in the NHS

Britain will continue trying to recruit the health workers it needs from abroad, but getting back those its lost to the EU is unlikely - as ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports

Thousands of Spanish health workers say they have no plans to return to the UK to plug vital gaps in the NHS – with Brexit being cited as a recurring reason.

Several hospitals have declared critical incidents in recent weeks as services reach a point of crisis, with one of the main factors being staff shortages.

In December last year, NHS Digital reported vacancies across England had risen to a new record high of more than 133,000 full-time equivalent posts unfilled.

In March 2021, this figure stood at 76,082.

Back in 2017, just after the Brexit vote, there were 7,500 Spanish health workers in Britain. Now the number is half that and falling.

One recurring theme is Brexit, as nurse Pedro Redondo Garcia – who was among the 7,500 – explained.

“When all this Brexit problem came up... I always felt loved and needed, it made me think that I needed a change because I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said.

“My closest people, they all left,” he added, when asked how many Europeans he worked with are still in the UK.

It is unlikely many Spanish nurses will be returning to the NHS.

More than 4,000 European doctors have opted not to work in the NHS following the Brexit vote in 2016, according to analysis from the Nuffield Trust health think tank.

The pre-Brexit number of doctor specialists working in the NHS in 2021 was forecast to be 41,321.

However the research, which was conducted on behalf of The Guardian in November last year, shows the actual figure for 2021 to be 37,035 – more than 4,000 fewer than the pre-EU referendum projections.

The Nuffield Trust says that while the effect is “subtle”, it is “inarguable” that registration of doctors from the EU and the four European Free Trade Association (EFTA) members (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein) “was slower in the years after 2016 than the years before”.

John Pinto says he doesn't recommend going to the UK.

In Spain, they still recommend their staff gain vital experience abroad – just not in the UK.

John Pinto is one of those who left his role at Bristol Royal Infirmary in 2020. Now in Malaga, he says he wouldn’t move back to Britain.

“I recommend to my student nurses to go abroad but not to the UK,” he said.

“[I recommend] probably another European country like Netherlands or Germany.”

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