HSE to feel strain as post-Brexit UK 'to poach our doctors, nurses'
Britain will seek to poach medical staff from Ireland to fill gaps left by EU migrant health workers, a leading World Health Organisation (WHO) official has warned.
Jim Campbell, director of the WHO's health workforce department, said he was concerned that post-Brexit the UK may lure nurses and medics from Ireland under a bilateral agreement.
He warned Ireland is already experiencing major challenges in the recruitment and retention of health professionals.
Further shortages would present a risk to the effective functioning of the health system, said Mr Campbell.
"The decision of the UK government to exit Europe has already had a major destabilising impact on the freedom of people's individual choices to migrate and work in the UK NHS.
"People are voting with their feet and looking elsewhere," said Mr Campbell.
"If the UK would then experience additional pressures on recruiting from the EU we can anticipate there will be a bigger drive from them to attract health workers.
"As a neighbouring country, Irish health workers could suddenly be approached, (under) that traditional UK-Ireland bilateral agreement.
"A gap in one country becomes an opportunity for others to move, so I would be particularly concerned that the long-term impact of the Brexit discussion could have serious implications for the Irish health workforce."
Mr Campbell was speaking ahead of a four-day Global Forum on Human Resources for Health being held at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in Ballsbridge, Dublin.
The forum was convened by the Department of Health, the World Health Organisation, Trinity College Dublin, the HSE, Irish Aid, and the Global Health Workforce Network.
The organisations involved have warned that the world is heading towards a shortfall of 18 million health workers by 2030, especially in poorer countries.
Mr Campbell said Ireland can help reduce the predicted shortfall by building a sustainable workforce with its own citizens.
He cautioned it must become less dependent on foreign-born and foreign-trained health workers.
"As you build your own sustainable workforce you have automatically a positive impact on other countries not losing their healthcare workers," he said.
Mr Campbell warned there is a danger that the next global outbreak could "overwhelm health systems globally".
"All it would need would be one terrible bout of influenza to really put pressure around the world.
"We are one outbreak away from really having a collapse of what we anticipate of the health care systems.
"Global health security is a serious concern and we need to invest in the workforce for emergency preparedness.
"Health workers are not a cost to be maintained.
"It is an investment in the health of the population, an investment in a powerful dynamic economic sector, an investment in women's jobs and in our health and care economies."