Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Labour claims leaving EU could exacerbate NHS nurse shortage


The NHS could not function without nurses and midwives from other countries, claimed shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander today in a speech backing Britain staying in the European Union.

Speaking at the headquarters of public sector union Unison, Ms Alexander said parts of the health service would not work without the contribution of EU migrants.

“You’re more likely to come across a migrant caring for you in hospital than in the bed next to you – 52,000 people working in the NHS today are from other European countries,” she said.

“These are doctors, nurse and midwives who work day-in, day-out saving lives and caring for our loved ones through ill health,” she added.

Ms Alexander acknowledged that being a frontline member of staff in the NHS at the moment was “hard going”, but argued that leaving the EU could make things worse.

“I know how you constantly feel as if you are being asked to do more for less,” she said. “How cuts to nurse training places mean staff are overworked and spread too thin. And how you are left picking up the pieces of a social care system which is on its knees due to years of under-funding.”

“I know how you constantly feel as if you are being asked to do more for less”

Heidi Alexander

She said investing in current and new staff was vital for the future of the health service and this included developing “more home-grown staff” and ensuring young people “see care as a vocation and not as a job of last resort”.

Nevertheless, she stressed that the NHS currently relied on workers from the EU, such as the Polish healthcare assistant who looked after her grandmother towards the end of her life.

“Brexit” could mean existing NHS staff originally from abroad could be forced to leave the country because of difficulties renewing visas, she suggested.

There may be new restrictions on recruiting new staff and hospitals could struggle to recruit “without immediate access to the pool of qualified staff from other European countries”.

“At a time when hospital wards are already dangerously understaffed, when the care system is already in crisis, is leaving the EU a risk the NHS can afford to take?” she said.

She warned that Brexit risked “plunging the health service into an even deeper financial crisis”, flagging up a new analysis by Labour that claimed it could blow a £10.5bn hole in the NHS budget.

“That’s £10.5bn pounds of cuts which, if made today, would mean every hospital trust in England cutting 1,000 nurses and 155 doctors,” she said.

However, Vote Leave campaigners have previously argued that exiting the EU would free up more money that could be pumped into the NHS.

In addition, Brexit supporters, including Boris Johnson, have claimed that reducing migration could alleviate pressure on health services such as accident and emergency departments.


Readers' comments (9)

  • Doctors and nurses come from all over the world, not just the EU. The problem is we currently have to recruit nurses, often with poor english, from the EU in preference to English speaking well qualified nurses from outside the EU.
    Heidi's comments therefore make no sense.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I would argue your case.
    Brexit would mean better care for the NHS. Why? If there is a shortage, nurses or HCAs from the EU would have to apply for a visa to enter Britain.
    Thus after following certain procedures including passing an ENGLISH test.
    I have been to a nursing home recently and what I discovered there was pathetically unacceptable; 80% of the staff were unable to communicate using better English. I wouldn't want my parent or grandparents to be in that position ever! Better care mean better communication! I couldn't even ask the carers anything as there was communication barrier? And is this what you call "better care"?
    I am an immigrant and one thing the British government or then UKCC made sure of was that I was able to read, write and communicate fluent English before coming over!
    Unless you are saying, all you are interested in is CHEAP labour; forget better care!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I completely agree. There is no plan to expel current EU residents and my experience of the EU nurses employed by my trust is that the language skills are poor and the clinical skills dubious in many though not all cases. I have worked with staff from across the world in my time in the NHS and the crux of the issue is that all political parties want to tap into the desperate pool of underpaid EU nurses from the poorer EU countries. How often do they recruit large groups of German nurses?. If pay for all health workers was better you would get more British nurses coming back into the profession not to mention a much higher quality of foreign staff from any where in the world. If you cant be bothered to apply for a visa do you really want to work in the country. The EU is a tool to keep wages for health care workers at an all time "real" low. I want out of Europe so that the care I receive in my old age is good and my pay while I work reflects my skills ability and value to society so Brexit it is.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Leaving EU would definitely worsen the nursing levels in this country. In fact recruiting from within EU has put much pressures on existing staff as most European staff cannot communicate properly which is not there fault. But recruitment from commonwealth countries has always paid off and they understand and sympathise with pre-historical healthcare management. And recruiting from the Philippines is a great asset except that philippines training is light years ahead of ours.
    Get if of the EU before it's too late.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I´m hoping that those that have commented before are not health professionals or I would be seriously worried with the level of ignorance and prejudice that is presented on their comments. The NMC and GMC already have language tests in place for professionals outside the UK, therefore, the argument for controlling the borders just does not make sense in this case. On the other hand, if it is true that some professionals don´t speak great English, we must not neglect the fact that the vast majority does and their training is at an equal if not higher level in terms of quality when compared to UK nurses. You can always learn and improve your English while great quality, passionate nursing is much harder to teach! For the person mentionning German nurses, you may not know that they are all trained at A level / college level when they enter the profession and don´t have the skills to register with the NMC. I can assure you that many would happily come considering how poorly they are paid when compared with some other professions in Germany. The NHS needs many nurses, doctors and other health professionals and can only benefit with the multitude of experiences, cultural and professional backgrounds that are available thanks to the many different nationalities that we currently have working in the system. Victory for Brexit will only mean victory for prejudice and perhaps the beginning of the end of what have made this country great - being able to enjoy the best that everyone has to offer!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Interesting comments. A friend of mine is currently orientating an Italian nurse to her unit. His English is appalling, he reuses to undertake bedside care and doesn't seem to understand the process of medication delivery. He has his PN number, so presumably has undertaken an English test. Leaving the EU would not necessarily rob us of the opportunity to employ nurses from Europe and given that we have excellent nurses in UK who hail from many countries outside the EU, this seems a short sighted viewpoint.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • if the NMC and GMC have language tests in place they are not stringent enough as the language skills I am seeing amongst the European nurses recruited to are trust are overall unacceptable and this is after attending lengthy induction courses where particular emphasis is paid to language and dialect. One of the problem with the shortage of nursing staff is that pay and conditions are so poor that the skilled and highly valuable older nurses are choosing to take early retirement. In my trust it is epidemic. These are not "old" people they are nurses from 55 onward. I have seen 2 of the best nurses I have ever known both go in the last month. Both are fit and are going because of dissatisfaction in the NHS. I also know of younger staff career changing. There are British staff out there but you need to improve the working conditions for them. Simply importing European nurses who are failing to deliver [especially without the support of senior experienced and enthusiastic staff members], will never solve the problem in fact its just making the situation worse.
    Ps I was giving some training to foreign nurses when one got up walked across the room and plugged his mobile phone into a socket without so much as a by your leave!!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I will definitely be voting out as it will demand better conditions for nurses from management who too easily take advantage from nurses elsewhere. Hopefully it will ask make nurses a stronger workforce. This is why management want staff to vote out, it's nothing to do with numbers - they don't care about that but they do if you start demanding better conditions and are prepared to strike with it. It might mean showing up terrible managment unions like RCN and demand real change. How many hospitals have been referred to the CQC and how many times have weak unions done nought. Yes I want to be able to give better care by being cared for better so I am voting out.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • If trusts aren't able to Easyjet staff in so easily then they will have to concentrate on training UK born staff, recruiting staff back from the private sector who left due to poor pay and conditions and retaining staff that are choosing to leave the profession either for retirement or other careers! The NMC would also not be able to introduce increasingly time consuming entry requirements, inflation busting fees and their general hatred and disrespect of nursing staff. Vote out if you want better pay and conditions as employers will need you rather than just being able to replace you with cheaper, less able, desperate for work, economic migrant labour

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.