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Why it’s important to keep our links with European nurse networks strong

As UK nurses, we need to hold on to our international collaborations after Brexit

As UK nurses, we need to hold on to our international collaborations after Brexit


Brexit may sever many ties, but nurses across Europe can still share fundamental values.
Picture: iStock

The deadlines come and go for a deal or no deal, an extension, a backstop, a back-up plan, a people’s vote, a second referendum or yet another parliamentary vote.

Sadly, the wake-up call about the serious implications of Brexit, particularly a chaotic one, for our health and social care system has come late in the long deliberations of politicians, the media and public on our relationship with and divorce from the European Union (EU).

This is despite many in healthcare pointing out we would lose valued staff, face challenges with access to and supply of medicines, and have to rethink years of collaboration on research that addresses health threats and seeks common solutions to a range of problems that affect nursing. 

Brexit’s consequences for nurses

The unintended consequences of leaving the EU and the indecision that is leading us towards a no-deal Brexit, are now coming to light. These include the potential impact on Spanish nurses who came here to work, expecting that their practice hours in the UK would continue to be recognised if they returned home.

‘It’s important we don’t all get Brexit fatigue, and continue to advocate for the things that make our health, our service and our profession stronger’

Like most institutions, the EU is not without its faults but it will be a less practical, pragmatic, solutions-focused place without the UK. Meanwhile, the UK will be in danger of becoming isolated, with less exposure to the views and experience of its nearest neighbours.

The UK will also have to find other ways of influencing the EU, which will continue to affect us economically, socially and environmentally.

Shared European values

I am sure the nursing community will continue to maintain its networks, based not only on finding practical solutions but also on recognising a set of shared values across Europe.

In 2020, this will be even more important; it will be the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale's birth and the Year of the Nurse and, given the legacy of Florence Nightingale, many nurses across the world see the UK as the home of nursing.

But, for those who hope the UK can move on from the Brexit debate before then, in many ways the most important issue is still to come: the long-term relationship with Europe.

So it’s important we don’t all get Brexit fatigue, and continue to advocate for the things that make our health, our service and our profession stronger.

As former prime minister Sir Winston Churchill, a strong believer in European unity, so famously said during the second world war: ‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’


Susan Williams retires as RCN senior international adviser in March 2019

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