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Public ‘want EU nurse recruitment to continue post-Brexit’

Regardless of how they voted in referendum, most people want EU nurses to stay, poll shows

Most people in the UK think efforts to attract nurses from the European Union should continue after Brexit, an opinion poll shows.


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About 71% of the 2,083 adults polled say the UK should carry on trying to recruit nurses from the EU. Almost two-thirds (65%) of those who voted ‘leave’ in the EU referendum agree.

Responding to the poll, conducted by Ipsos MORI for the Health Foundation and released today, RCN chief executive Janet Davies said: ‘Regardless of how people voted in the Brexit referendum, this shows they see the value of nurses from around Europe and know we desperately need to keep them.’

The responses reveal public concerns about NHS staffing:

  • Most people (79%) don’t think the NHS has enough staff to provide current services.
  • About 14% think the UK should reduce the number of non-UK nurses from any country working in the UK.
  • One in ten believe we should reduce the number of EU nurses working in the UK and replace them with nurses from non-EU countries.

The latest figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) show that the number of nurses coming from the EU to work in the UK has dropped by 87% since 2016-17, from 6,382 down to 805 in 2017-18.

Registrations down

Analysis of the NMC data by charity the Health Foundation also shows that registration of new nurses from the EU flatlined between the Brexit referendum result in June 2016 and April this year.

The monthly average number of EU nurses registering in the UK in the first seven months of 2016 was 940. Since January 2017 this monthly average has always been below 100.

The RCN says there are 40,000 nurse vacancies in England, although NHS Improvement put the figure at 35,835 as of December 2017.

Ms Davies said: ‘Uncertainties and nervousness around Brexit have seen EU nurses leaving in droves. The public is right to worry about the dangerous consequences of this understaffing.

‘Voters and taxpayers are sending a clear message to the government – a nurse who trained in Barcelona is as welcome as a nurse who trained in Bradford, not least when the shortage is so great.’

‘Don’t take them for granted’

Health Foundation director of research and economics Anita Charlesworth said the huge drop in the number of EU nurses coming to work in the NHS was a stark reminder not to take overseas staff for granted.

She said: ‘International recruitment plays a vital role in maintaining quality of care. It’s clear that the public value the contribution that nurses from abroad make and want to make sure that the NHS continues to welcome staff from other countries.’

Plugging the UK nursing shortages

  • The Republic of Ireland is now the main source of nurses recruited from within the EU, the Health Foundation analysis shows
  • The number of nurses registering from the main EU sources of previous years – such as Portugal, Spain, Romania and Italy – has dropped ten-fold since 2016
  • The inflow of nurses from non-EU countries has not increased enough to compensate for this drop
  • The total number of new nurse registrants (from the UK and abroad) in 2017-18 was 3,500 less than in 2016-17 – a drop of more than 10%

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