Expert advice

James Buchan: Age of uncertainty and the need for foreign nurses

Lack of clarity on our EU exit terms, combined with scrapping of the student bursary, means no one knows how dependent the UK will be on foreign nurses.
age of uncertainty

Lack of clarity on our EU exit terms, combined with scrapping of the student bursary, means no one knows how dependent the UK will be on foreign nurses

The impact of Brexit on the NHS and on nursing remains a known unknown. We all agree it will have an impact, but we cannot agree yet what that impact will be.

The April 28 report on Brexit by the Commons Health Committee does a good job of sorting out the current facts from the speculation.

The committee points to two other known unknowns that complicate an assessment of UK nursing numbers after the referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) last

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Lack of clarity on our EU exit terms, combined with scrapping of the student bursary, means no one knows how dependent the UK will be on foreign nurses   

age of uncertainty
Future dependence on foreign nurses is one of the unknowns raised by Brexit.
Picture: iStock

The impact of Brexit on the NHS and on nursing remains a ‘known unknown’.  We all agree it will have an impact, but we cannot agree yet what that impact will be.

The April 28 report on Brexit by the Commons Health Committee does a good job of sorting out the current facts from the speculation.

The committee points to two other ‘known unknowns’ that complicate an assessment of UK nursing numbers after the referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) last June.

First, they note that the decline in EU nurses applying to join the UK register after the Brexit vote had followed an earlier increase in EU nurse applicants. These applicants were trying to register before new, tougher language testing was introduced by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) at the beginning of 2016. 

Shift to the unpredictable

So in part, the drop in new EU nurses in the second half of last year was due to domestic regulatory change and had nothing to do with Brexit. In evidence to the committee, the NMC said it did not know conclusively what caused the decline in EU nursing applicants.

EU nurses already working in the UK do not know what their status will be after Brexit becomes a reality.

The second unknown is the impact on future student nurse numbers of the switch to student loans from bursaries in England.   

Anyone trying to plan nationally in England for future nursing numbers has to somehow take account of the uncertainty imposed by post-Brexit changes in international flows of nurses, compounded by the unpredictability of shifting to an open market-based entry to pre-registration nurse education.

Little wonder that the committee concluded that the extent to which the NHS will continue to rely on foreign-trained nurses ‘remains uncertain’.


jim buchan

James Buchan is a professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

 

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