Analysis

Many worry not enough is being done to persuade EU nurses to stay

The prime minister says there is a ‘fair and serious offer’ on EU citizens’ rights after Brexit, but unions and campaigners say too little is being done to persuade EU nurses to stay or join the NHS.
brexit

The prime minister says there is a fair and serious offer on EU citizens rights after Brexit, but unions and campaigners say too little is being done to persuade EU nurses to stay or join the NHS

Unions and campaigners say the government is doing too little to entice EU nurses to stay or join the NHS in post-Brexit plans published last week.

Prime minister Theresa May unveiled plans in the House of Commons for EU citizens to be given the right to remain in the UK.

The proposals set out in the 15-page document cover the more than 37,400 nurses one in 20 of the nurses on the register trained in the EU and living in the UK.

Under the plans, EU

...

The prime minister says there is a ‘fair and serious offer’ on EU citizens’ rights after Brexit, but unions and campaigners say too little is being done to persuade EU nurses to stay or join the NHS

brexit
Some worry EU nurses may be deterred by lack of clarity on their status.
Picture: Getty Images

Unions and campaigners say the government is doing too little to entice EU nurses to stay or join the NHS in post-Brexit plans published last week.

Prime minister Theresa May unveiled plans in the House of Commons for EU citizens to be given the right to remain in the UK.

The proposals set out in the 15-page document cover the more than 37,400 nurses – one in 20 of the nurses on the register – trained in the EU and living in the UK.

Under the plans, EU citizens who have been in the UK for five years or more will be able to apply for ‘settled status’. This means they will effectively be granted indefinite leave to stay and be able to access public funds and services, such as the NHS, and apply for British citizenship. They will also be able to bring relatives into the country.

Light touch

Those who have not yet accrued five years of continuous residence by a cut-off date – which has not yet been set – can apply for temporary status until they are eligible for settled status. Those who come after this cut-off point will have two years to ‘regularise their status’ but with no guarantees they can stay.

All EU citizens will have to apply for the right to stay and receive documentation to prove it. This has led to the suggestion that they will effectively need an identity card to prove their right to remain.

37,400

EU-trained nurses were on the register at the end of May 2017

Ms May said the process of application would be simplified and a ‘light touch’ approach adopted.

She said the policy paper made a ‘fair and serious offer’ to maintain EU citizens’ rights, which will be enshrined in UK law and should put EU citizens’ anxiety at rest.

Lack of clarity

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the government's offer as ‘not generous’ and ‘too little, too late’.

The RCN and public services trade union Unison suggest the plans fail to add sufficient clarity to the situation. Keeping EU nurses and recruiting more to the NHS was vital during a period of high vacancy rates, they say.

Uncertainty around Brexit appears to be having an impact on the number of EU nurses coming to the UK at a time when the UK has high rates of nursing vacancies. The number of EU-trained nurses and midwives joining the register for the first time has dropped steeply since the leave vote in June last year.

In July last year there were 1,300 applications to join the register from EU-trained nurses, but this fell to only 46 in April. Nursing and Midwifery Council registrar and chief executive Jackie Smith says it is likely that ‘uncertainty about the effect of Brexit on individual nurses’ is a factor in the downturn.

The NMC said the introduction of tougher English language tests could also have been a factor in the decline in numbers of EU nurses. Applicants who had started the process of joining the register had until July 2016 to use the old system.

RCN head of employment relations Josie Irwin says there appears to be ‘quite a lot of hoops’ for nurses to secure their settled status.

While it is better to have the plan than not, she would still like more clarity and simplicity.

5 years

the length of time EU citizens will need to have lived in the UK to apply for settled status

‘It is likely to deter a significant number of potential nurses who might have stayed and helped to fill the 40,000 nursing vacancy gap, which is now worse because of the uncertainty,’ Ms Irwin says.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton says the announcement is disappointing.

‘It just creates confusion over the way that these different tiers operate,’ she says.

‘If EU staff who are already here are seeing their pay diminish in relation to inflation, if the value of the pound drops against other European countries and there is continued fog around the right to stay, then that is a real problem for the NHS, and people are likely to vote with their feet and leave or not come. That creates problems for employers and the nurses working.’

 Wrong message

 The Cavendish Coalition, a group of 35 health and social care organisations working to ensure staffing needs continue to be met following Brexit, says the plan is a step in the right direction.

Cavendish Coalition co-convener Danny Mortimer is calling for the cut-off date to be as late as possible. ‘We echo the concern of other industries if the cut-off date for entitlement to remain was set prior to the actual date of Brexit,’ he says. ‘This would disadvantage colleagues who have come to the UK in the past 12 months.’

Campaigning groups reacted with anger to reports that 150,000 people who have already gone through the complex permanent residency process will still have to apply for settled status.

3.2 million

EU citizens are living in the UK

Joan Pons Laplana, a nurse originally from Spain who has lived in the UK for 17 years, is unhappy with the government’s proposed deal. A transformation nurse at the James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, he has three children who have dual British and Spanish nationality and live in the UK.

He says he feels he will be held a ‘prisoner’ in this country due to the rule that settled status would be lost if a resident leaves the UK for two years. ‘I am concerned about the future of the NHS and this could be the last nail in the coffin,’ Mr Pons Laplana says.

‘Theresa May has turned EU citizens into prisoners. She is sending the wrong message to the rest of the world. Nurses don’t want to come here now and people who are here are leaving.’

UK government offer to EU citizens

  • Those granted settled status will be able to live, work, study and claim benefits just as they can now.
  • The cut-off date for eligibility is undecided but will be between now and 29 March 2019.
  • Settled status following five years of continuous residence.
  • EU citizens resident here who obtain documentation showing settled status will be able to carry on living here lawfully
  • Those already in the UK but resident for less than five years can apply for temporary status until they reach five years
  • Those who arrive after an as yet undecided date have two years to ‘regularise’ their status, but with no guarantees they can stay.

 

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