No progress on health and care priorities as UK ‘stumbles towards Brexit', warns RCN

Press Release 17/10/2018

All five Brexit health and care priorities ranked either ‘red’ or ‘amber’ by College

On the eve of the important European Council meeting in Brussels to debate the terms of the British exit from the EU, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) today warns there has been ‘little or no progress’ on all five of the areas of concern in health and care that it identified for the Government after the Brexit referendum in 2016.

Using a traffic light system to assess progress since the referendum on the five priorities for the UK’s Brexit withdrawal arrangements for patients, the public and nursing, the College says none of the areas can be given a green light, and three have a red light warning [see note 1].

Last week we also learned that the Home Office plans to double the Immigration Health Surcharge for non-EU nurses and doctors seeking to work in the UK to £400 per year. This sends a very clear message to these individuals that they are no longer welcome in the UK. Meanwhile there has been a huge drop in the number of nurses and midwives from the EU joining the nursing register, falling by 5,577 people since last year [see note 2].

The five key priorities highlighted by the College after the referendum to ensure that Brexit did not harm nursing and health and care services in the UK were: safeguarding the workforce, preserving regulations governing staff and medicines, maintaining public health, protecting workers’ rights, and continuing collaboration on EU-wide research and across nursing organisations.

The RCN set out to assess progress in the five areas using the following ratings:

  • RED indicates that there has been no firm commitment made by the UK Government on this issue and how to resolve it
  • AMBER denotes some UK Government commitment or statement, but no agreement with the EU on practical application
  • GREEN indicates a firm commitment from the UK Government and the EU, including a commitment to practical implementation

The College found that none of the five areas could be ranked green, while three received a red warning:

Workforce: preserving the rights of EU nationals working in health and care services in the UK, and developing a strategy to allow for future migration. While the Government’s announcement of a ‘settled status’ route for EU nationals wanting to stay in the UK is welcome, we do not yet have absolute clarity on nurses’ right to remain in the event of a no-deal Brexit – despite the fact that there are currently 35,000 EU nurses in the UK [see note 3]. RCN PROGRESS RATING: AMBER WARNING

EU regulations on professionals and medicines: the EU Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications (MRPQ) directive has enabled the UK to recruit nurses and doctors from Europe to fill our workforce shortages. It also includes language checks on EU nurses, and a duty on all member states to inform one another about suspended or banned staff. Other EU regulations contribute to the development and approval of new medicines and medical devices, and provide for participation by British patients in clinical trials. With less than six months to go before the UK leaves the EU, it is still unclear how Brexit will affect these important areas. RCN PROGRESS RATING: RED WARNING

Public health: continuing to address public health threats collaboratively with the rest of the EU, particularly those crossing borders such as infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance. At present the EU’s European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) identifies and assesses risks posed to European citizens’ health from communicable diseases – after Brexit, the UK could be excluded from reporting and comparing important surveillance data on health threats. The EU also legislates on important public health issues such as tobacco regulation and air and water quality. At present there are no details on the UK’s ambitions for continued involvement with the ECDC. RCN PROGRESS RATING: RED WARNING

Protecting workers’ rights: safeguarding decent working conditions for health and care staff, health and safety at work, and employment rights, many of which were adopted EU-wide. As yet there is no firm commitment from the Government that workers’ rights will be maintained at current standards once we leave the EU. RCN PROGRESS RATING: RED WARNING

Research and nursing collaboration: maintaining important opportunities across Europe and between EU nursing organisations for research, and to share learning and experience. RCN PROGRESS RATING: RED WARNING for UK participation in EU research and exchange programmes; AMBER WARNING for collaboration with other nursing organisations in Europe.

Commenting on the College’s assessment of progress in the health and care priorities, RCN Chair of Council Maria Trewern said:

“Tonight, the EU27 are meeting for dinner in Brussels to discuss the terms of the UK’s exit from Europe without us. With less than six months to go before Britain leaves the Union, the College is extremely concerned that the Government has made so little progress on sorting out vital regulations and agreements with the EU that have a huge impact on British patients, the public and nursing staff. These agreements have been built up over decades through collaboration between the different health systems and governments of Europe.

“We urge the Government to focus as a priority on the areas we’ve identified, or else Britain will stumble towards Brexit with no clear idea of how patients, the public and the health and care workforce will be protected after next March”.


Notes to Editors

  1. Brexit: Royal College of Nursing Priorities. October 2018
  2. 5,577 fewer people from the EEA joined the NMC register in 2017/2018 than in 2016/2017 (a drop of 87 percent). And 881 more people left it (an increase of 29 percent).
  3. Latest statistics from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register published in March 2018 showed 35,115 nurses from the EU are registered to work in the UK.

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