NHS would not cope without European nurses – RCN

NHS would not cope without nurses from the European Union, Royal College of Nursing warns.
Union and EU flags

The NHS would not cope without its growing cohort of nurses from the European Union (EU), says the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

The number of EU nationals joining NHS hospitals has soared in recent years. Around one in five nurses recruited in England in 2015/16 were from the EU – up from one in 14 in 2011/12, according to NHS Digital.

Here from the start

RCN director of nursing, policy and practice Dame Donna Kinnair said nurses trained outside the UK have contributed to the NHS since its inception.

‘The health service would not cope without their contribution, and with the future supply of nurses looking uncertain this situation will not change any time soon,’ said Ms Kinnair.

‘Uncertainty is unfair’

‘Allowing the ambiguity about the future of healthcare staff from the EU to continue is completely unfair.’

Professor Kinnair called on the government to develop a coherent and sustainable workforce strategy that recognised the critical role of overseas nurses.

Of the 33,000 nurses recorded as joining hospitals in the past year, more than 6,000 were from elsewhere in the EU: 1,750 were Spanish, 1,300 Italian and almost 1,000 were Portuguese.

Over the same period the proportion of nurses joining hospitals who were British dropped from roughly 78% to 70%.

Non-European nurse numbers declining

In March, a Nursing Standard analysis of overseas nurses revealed numbers of nurses from outside the European Economic Area are falling – from 15,000 a year in the early 2000s to just 665 in 2014/15.

The rights of EU citizens to continue to work in the UK will be one of the key issues in the Brexit negotiations. The government will have to clarify the future status of the 2.2 million non-UK nationals employed in the UK.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt told this week’s Conservative party conference he wanted EU citizens working in the NHS to be able to stay post-Brexit.

‘Crucial to our NHS’

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Overseas workers form a crucial part of our NHS and we value their contribution immensely.

‘We want to see the outstanding work of nurses who are already trained overseas continue, but at the same time we are delivering our plan to train more home-grown nurses.

‘Our changes to student nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals funding will also create thousands more training places by the end of this parliament.’

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said his organisation is among those lobbying the government to grant indefinite leave to remain for the 144,000 people from the EU working in health and social care.

Further information

Read our analysis on the dwindling numbers of nurses from outside the European Economic Area