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Nurses from outside UK tell of negative workplace experiences since Brexit referendum

Foreign staff say prejudice and barriers to career progression might force them out of NHS

Foreign staff say prejudice and barriers to career progression might force them out of NHS


Picture: Daniel Mitchell

Overseas nurses have told researchers that discrimination and Brexit make it more likely they will leave the NHS.

University of Nottingham researchers interviewed 11 nurses from Greece, Spain, Italy and the Philippines working in the Midlands and south west England.

The nurses said they had encountered a lack of career progression and had been affected by understaffing since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

A nurse from Greece recalled an incident with a patient’s husband. She said: ‘When I was giving his wife medication, he was telling me to go back to the country I came from.

‘I told him I can’t go because I have to take care of patients in the NHS and he then calmed down.

‘You can feel there is something wrong in the air. I felt it more after the referendum.’

Professional problems

Some of the study participants claimed senior managers were reluctant to invest in them because of a perceived risk they might leave.  

One Filipino nurse said he felt he was 'doing two jobs' due to intensified staff shortage since the referendum. 

The authors of the study acknowledged the limitations of the small sample size, but made recommendations for how employers could encourage EU and overseas nurses to stay, including:

  • Ensuring they provide career development opportunities.
  • Protecting nurses from overseas against discrimination from patients and colleagues.
  • Valuing and recognising the skills and experience of overseas nurses.

RCN national officer Kim Sunley said: ‘Employers have a role in ensuring the skills and value that international nurses bring is recognised and promoted among other staff and the communities they serve.’

Chief nursing officer for England Ruth May said the contribution of overseas nurses is greatly valued in the NHS.

‘NHS leaders should exercise their responsibility to take immediate action to address any incidents of this nature and provide appropriate staff support,’ she said.


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