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Brexit – a good deal for SCI people?

Brexit is one of our generations’ most important political issues. Divisive? Certainly. Complicated? Without a doubt. It’s a topic that affects every single one of us – however we voted – and will continue to do so for many years after we leave the EU in just under a year. But what is the impact of this momentous decision on the lives of spinal cord injured people? Will we be amongst the Brexit winners, or the Brexit losers?

It’s certainly clear that the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU will have a wide ranging impact on the lives of spinal cord injured people, and in particular on those who are severely disabled and need regular or round the clock care. Such staff are essential in providing life sustaining care and in many cases vital in supporting people to lead a fulfilled life. With the right care and support, severely disabled people can work, and contribute meaningfully to family and community life – and that’s undoubtedly a good thing for disabled people, family and friends and wider society.

Whilst care staff come from all over the World, a significant number are EU nationals. Up to two thirds of PAs recruited by a major specialist care agency to do 24/7 live-in care come from EU countries, for example. It’s therefore good news that that EU citizens currently living in the UK will be able to remain. I hope that it will persuade as many as possible to stay and continue their valuable contribution to the health and care of spinal cord injured people.   However, as members have been telling us for a long time, shortages of key staff and the challenges of recruiting new staff from the EU and the U.K. are increasing, so much more needs to be done.

A motivated, diverse and stable workforce who see a long term career in the care sector as a viable option for them is essential not just for spinal cord injured people themselves but for wider society. If basic care needs are not met then severely disabled people will inevitably require the attention of other, much more expensive, parts of the health and social care system, such as A and E. Of course, good quality care is, for many people, an essential part of leading a fulfilled life and contributing to wider society as they choose.

In the immediate future, the government should provide further reassurance to EU citizens currently living in the UK to stay and continue to make a worthwhile contribution to the health and social care workforce. In the longer term, I want to see further efforts made to develop the domestic health and social care workforce, so that care providers and disabled people have the ability to recruit non UK staff when there are not enough resident workers to fill vacancies.

It’s also important to remember that while Brexit is likely to compound workforce pressures – especially around the regrettably low paid care sector – the recruitment and retention problems within health and social care predate the UK’s decision to leave the EU. Addressing these and future challenges requires a comprehensive approach to workforce planning across the sector.

Ultimately, the impact of Brexit on spinal cord injured people will largely depend on Brexit’s impact on the economy and society. And that, as we know, remains a bone of great contention.

Dr Rupert Earl
SIA Chair