RCN’s Janet Davies warns ‘there is so much to sort’ regarding Brexit’s implications for nursing

College’s general secretary tells forum that many unforeseen challenges may yet present themselves

The nursing profession is ‘yet to see the full complexity of Brexit’, RCN general secretary Janet Davies has warned.

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In addition to concerns about the reduction in the number of nurses coming to the UK from other European Union (EU) countries, Ms Davies expressed concerns about the loss of EU grants for nurse researchers and restrictions on UK nurses’ freedom of movement.

Ms Davies made her remarks during a forum debate to discuss future recruitment and retention strategies for the health and social care workforce, as well as priorities for its professions.

Recent Nursing and Midwifery Council figures show an 89% drop in the number of nurses joining its register from other EU countries – down from 10,178 in October 2016 (the year of the EU referendum) to 1,107 in September 2017.

The data also showed more nurses left the register than joined it, with the largest group of leavers being those who trained elsewhere in the EU (4,067).

Broad impact of Brexit

Presenting the data at the Westminster Health Forum in London last week, Ms Davies said: ‘We’ve certainly seen the reduction in numbers, but it [the impact Brexit will have] is much broader than that.

‘Already nurse researchers are finding they are having no success at all in applying for EU grants, while freedom of movement is incredibly useful for nurses but we have no idea what is going to happen to it.’

Speaking to Nursing Standard after her speech, Ms Davies added: ‘UK nurses need to be able to travel and work abroad without restrictions in order to improve their knowledge and skills.

‘Brexit is likely to see so many changes to UK legislation, so much of which affects nurses directly, such as health and safety directives and working time rules.

‘The lack of information about what the impact will be does concern me a great deal.

‘Of course we are talking with the government and authorities about this, but Brexit affects such a wide landscape and there is so much to sort.’

Request for clarity from the government

Commons health committee chair Sarah Wollaston has written to health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt to seek urgent clarity on how the government plans to protect patients and NHS services during the two-year Brexit transition period.

Ms Davies added: 'In his response to the committee chair, [Mr Hunt] must set out his intentions in detail. We must avoid sleepwalking into ‘no deal’ without any planning for the impact on healthcare, and we support the call for the government and European Commission to make a statement protecting patient interests in that eventuality.

'For as long as we fail to train enough UK nurses, we cannot afford to shut this door.'

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