Brexit and ageing population could force nurse recruitment ‘past the point of no return’

Brexit and an ageing population could worsen the existing shortage of nurses in England, research has warned.

A combination of Brexit and an ageing patient population could worsen the existing shortage of nurses in England, researchers have warned.

London and the south east of England recruit ‘above average’ levels of EU nurses

The research, conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies, found vulnerabilities in the current NHS nursing workforce which may leave it exposed to unintended consequences of Britain leaving the European Union (EU).

The report, Beyond Brexit: Assessing key risks to the nursing workforce in England, analysed local population statistics, as well as the number of nurses from the EU employed by NHS trusts.

Recruitment disruption

It identifies London and the south east of England as being ‘particularly vulnerable’ to recruitment disruption from Brexit because of their ‘above average’ levels of EU nurses, and people aged over 85.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn NHS Foundation Trust was highlighted as having ‘above average’ levels of nurses from the EU – 18% as of 2015.

The trust’s director of nursing Catherine Morgan told Nursing Standard: ‘The shortage of nurses across the UK is well documented and our recruitment campaigns, which focus on both the positive culture of the hospital and the advantages of living in Norfolk, have already yielded results.’

Ms Morgan added the trust was working with local colleges to develop a programme to promote healthcare as a career and develop new roles to suit the needs of patients.

‘Perfect storm’

The research also finds that some NHS trusts are vulnerable to higher-than-average growth in the over-85s, who are most likely to make intensive use of healthcare resources.

Responding to the report, RCN deputy director of nursing Stephanie Aiken said: ‘This research chimes with our warnings about a perfect storm engulfing the NHS in the future.

‘The UK is already over-reliant on nurses from other countries and it is not enough for the government simply to hope that more people apply to be nurses when all the available evidence shows that they will not do so.

‘This is a very worrying situation that could cause the staffing crisis to deteriorate past the point of no return.’

The Institute for Employment Studies report also said that at the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, 20% of the nursing workforce in 2015 were EU nationals.


A spokesperson for the trust said: 'Whilst the terms of Brexit remain unclear, it’s impossible to know what the implications will be, either for the trust or the wider NHS.

'When the workforce implications of the EU exit become clearer, we will take any action that is necessary.'

Meanwhile, RCN Scotland has responded to the Scottish government’s launch of Scotland’s Place in Europe, which outlines how it plans to mitigate the effect on the country from Brexit.

The Scottish government’s proposals makes clear its key aim is to remain in the single market – which aids freedom of movement and rights for EU workers – even if the rest of the UK leaves.

Impact on care

RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said: ‘Areas such as free movement, employment legislation and public health could potentially impact on health and social care.

‘Brexit presents an additional challenge to safe staffing levels and workforce planning in the coming years.

‘The RCN will continue to work closely with our sister nursing organisations across Europe to ensure that the voice of nursing is heard in any future negotiations, including the defence of all EU terms and conditions for nursing staff.’

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