NHS staffing should be a 'culture war' free zone

There has been understandable reaction to a weekend Times story about Baroness Harding apparently questioning the levels of international staff working in the NHS. Rob Yeldham, the CSP's director of strategy, policy and engagement, gives his view.

by Rob Yeldham

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'The NHS relies on colleagues from across the world,' says CSP policy director Rob Yeldham.

A xenophobic headline, which the paper rather than the would be NHS CEO are responsible for, has ignited outrage. This lays right into the so-called 'culture war' between liberal internationalists and conservative nationalists.

But in my view discussions on NHS workforce should not be turned into part of the culture war because that will drive decisions based on ideology, rather than what we need as a healthcare system.

The NHS relies on colleagues from across the world, and has done for decades. They are a valued and essential part of the team

Anyone who doesn’t recognise this, especially at a time when every profession in healthcare is at full stretch and vacancies are high, is ignoring the needs of the population as well as belittling the huge contribution overseas staff have made to the NHS.

Even without the pressures on the NHS and independent healthcare to find enough staff, we should still want to see an international movement of healthcare professionals. It helps spread learning. But international recruitment must be done ethically.

The CSP shares the views of the World Health Organisation and World Physiotherapy that richer healthcare systems should not rely on international recruitment from nations who themselves have insufficient clinical staff.

Critically, reliance on international recruitment as a strategy to address understaffing in the NHS is unlikely to work, even if done ethically.

Around the world many nations and many healthcare systems, from Ireland to Kenya, and from New Zealand to the UK, have shortages of physiotherapists.

Brexit has also made the UK a far less attractive a destination for European physios from the small number of countries where there may be an excess of supply.

So we do need to see an expansion of training in all four UK countries and around the world to meet population needs.  

But training more physiotherapists within the UK and valuing our international workforce are not alternatives.

They are both needed as part of a balanced workforce strategy

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