Since the Brexit referendum in June last year, the NHS nurses have been quitting their jobs in record numbers. Many criticised UK Prime Minister Theresa May for refusing to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit.

According to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the number of EU nationals working as nurses in England has plummeted by 92% from 1,261 nurses in the month after referendum to only 96 remaining in December.

"We risk facing a serious staff shortage which will only further worsen pressures on our NHS," Charlie Massey, head of the General Medical Council (GMC) said.

Government refuses to offer assurances

As RCN confirmed, 24,000 nursing positions in the NHS have been unfilled. Meanwhile, responses compiled by the Liberal Democrats from 80 of the 136 NHS acute trusts in England show that around 2,700 EU nurses left the health service in 2016, a 68% increase compared to 1,600 EU nurses in 2014.

Although the government has promised to offer the three million EU citizens in the UK the right to stay, it has refused to guarantee their status, claiming it would lose the UK “negotiating capital”. This will come as a hit to the NHS as fewer than one in 10 NHS nurses said they were confident to always provide safe levels of patient care.

Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the RCN, said, “The government risks turning off the supply of qualified nurses from around the world at the very moment the health service is in a staffing crisis like never before.”

She said, “As she pulls the trigger to begin negotiations, the prime minister must tell EU nurses and those in other occupations that they are needed and welcome in the NHS.” Davies said that the situation is unsurprising as the EU staff have been offered “no security or reassurance”.

“The government has failed to train enough British nurses and cannot afford to lose the international workforce on which the NHS so heavily relies.”

UK no longer the first choice for EU nurses

Joan Pons Laplana, a Spanish national, is a senior nurse at the James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth who came to the UK about 17 years ago. He said he had personally witnessed the low morale in foreign nurses.

“Since Brexit, I feel like a second-class citizen,” said Laplana. “The UK is no longer the first choice for EU nurses. The uncertain future means many they are starting to leave. We are people with feelings, not a commodity at the Brexit table.”

Laplana added, “We want guarantees soon. In Spain, all the nurses wanted to come here but they are now looking at other countries like France.” A Spanish nurse from Barcelona also said she is considering moving to Australia with her Spanish husband.

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, said, “It is vital that we reassure NHS staff and social care workers from the EU that they remain welcome and valued in the UK following Brexit.”

“These people save lives, yet this Conservative government is treating them with careless disregard. NHS and care services would struggle to cope if significant numbers of doctors, nurses and NHS staff from the EU left,” added Lamb.

The current concern is to ensure healthcare service and professionals are sufficient as the NHS is already under pressure as a result of long-term failure to hire enough people. MIMS

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