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Eastern region: Thousands of nurses at risk due to Brexit, RCN reveals

25 Jul 2016

Recruitment problems experienced by many NHS employers in the Eastern region could get worse with thousands of nurses currently working here potentially affected by changes to EU immigration rules after Brexit.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has published new research, based on data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which shows that at least 2,936 nurses based in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire identify themselves as being from an EU country, as of March 2016.

The figures show nurses from across Europe are now working in NHS facilities in the Eastern region. This includes 685 from Portugal, 622 from Spain and 379 from Italy. As not all staff choose to provide information on their nationality, it is likely that many more EU nurses are working here. 

In addition, private sector health providers and care homes also rely on EU staff to deliver their services. 

Separate figures obtained by the RCN from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) show that there are currently over 33,000 EU trained nurses registered to work in the UK as a whole, with over 9,000 joining the register in 2015/16 – a 21% increase on 2014/15. 

The figures come ahead of a House of Lords debate today (Thursday) on the impact of the vote to leave the EU on safe staffing levels in the NHS. The Lords will also be debating other risks to the NHS workforce such as the Government’s proposals to change student nurse funding.

The RCN is calling for the value of European nursing staff to be recognised and for the Government to protect their futures. 

Karen Webb, RCN Eastern regional director, said: “These are uncertain times for safe staffing in the health service, and a lack of concrete assurances from the Government over the future of EU nursing staff working in the UK is making the situation worse. What is vital is that valued colleagues across the Eastern region are supported to stay. 

“A sustained lack of investment in training new nurses and years of pay restraint mean many experienced nurses can’t afford to stay in the profession. Plans to change student funding and question marks over our future relationship with the EU place even greater pressure on the NHS. 

“What’s needed is a sensible strategy for the future that recognises the critical contribution of overseas nurses as well as the pressing need to educate, recruit and retain a homegrown nursing workforce. 

“Allowing the uncertainty to carry on is an unjust way of treating people who are caring for our friends and families every single day. It may also force many people to consider leaving the UK, making it even harder for the NHS to provide safe patient care.” 

For further comments on the impact of the EU referendum from Karen, please see her message from our recent newsletter here.

Page last updated - 15/06/2018