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Thousands of North West nurses at risk due to Brexit, RCN reveals

25 Jul 2016

The RCN has published new research, based on data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which shows that at least 1,786 nurses working in the North West are from the EU, at March 2016.

The figures show nurses from every part of Europe are now working in NHS Trusts and CCGs across the region, with Ireland (556), Spain (467), and Italy (212) the most common nationalities. However, as not all staff choose to provide information on their nationality, it is likely that many more EU nurses are working in the UK.

With many North West trusts struggling to recruit at home after a long pay freeze in the NHS, the RCN estimates that recruitment from the EU is now at its highest level for twenty years. 

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 new 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 safeguard their futures.

Estephanie Dunn, Regional Director of RCN North West 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 North West 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.”


Notes to Editors

  1. The RCN is the voice of nursing across the UK and is the largest professional union of nursing staff in the world.  The RCN promotes the interest of nurses and patients on a wide range of issues and helps shape healthcare policy by working closely with the UK Government and other national and international institutions, trade unions, professional bodies and voluntary organisations.
  1. For further information, please contact the RCN press office on 020 7647 3633 or email
  1. Total nursing staff working in the North West and England is as follows. Table shows NHS Hospital and Community Health Services (HCHS): Qualified Nursing, Health Visiting and Midwifery staff in NHS Trusts and CCGs in England by Health Education England region as at 31 March 2016 (Headcount)


England Total

Health Education North West










Rest of the world






  1. Source: Health and Social Care Information Centre data released to the Royal College of Nursing July 2016                                                             
  1. HSCIC says: “The nationality field available within the Electronic Staff Record (ESR) system upon which these figures are based, contains self-reported information from individual employees. Nationally over 100,000 NHS staff records do not contain useful data with people choosing not to specify their nationality or not asked to. In addition, as nationality is self-reported the value entered by an individual may reflect their cultural heritage rather than their country of birth. As such, these figures should be treated with a significant degree of caution.”

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