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'Brexit: no matter which way we voted, as nurses we only want what's best for those we care about'

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One of the reasons I was asked to become the Student Affairs Editor was because it is my belief that it’s impossible to practice as a professional without understanding the wider social and political issues affecting our work.

As the talk of Brexit dominates the headlines I thought it was important to look at why it is both our duty and also our opportunity to influence the future of our health system and the UK’s future. Hard or Soft, Leave or Remain what defines us is not a single vote but the fact that we are united by our common humanity.

The 2007/8 Recession wiped out trillions from the global financial markets and its effects will continue to be felt for decades. It is not hard to envisage a future where entire generations are unable to apply for mortgages, the weight of their student loans and unjustly low salaries anchoring them to a lifetime in poverty. Failure to act, to influence society and speak out as healthcare professionals, has meant that both our patients and us will be punished now and in the future, through the violent hand of an unnecessary and damaging austerity program.

“It’s far better to balance the books on the basis of punishing people who had the misfortune of being poor, no? No.”

Our economy has slowed, inevitably meaning that in order to ‘balance the books’ the government cut social care and related services. But why balance them on the backs of those responsible, right? It’s far better to balance it on the basis of punishing people who had the misfortune of being poor, no? No. It’s much more preferable to strip away the services they need to survive and that they deserve as taxpayers and citizens of this country, correct? Incorrect.

For those students that think that this isn’t important for them or their practice I would ask them to consider the difficulties they experience when discharging patients with packages of care. Have they considered that their qualified lives will be spent dealing with social care issues referring patients to food banks that they themselves access due to a salary which has fallen over 15% since 2010?

“As the junior doctors and steel workers have proven - we can create national issues for politicians”

National political issues affect our practice but we - as the junior doctors and steel workers have proven - can create national issues for politicians. Nurses say that austerity is a choice that asset strips our country and is a danger to patient safety as well as the NHS. Would it not be nice if every news program and paper ran with that as a headline? It is something we could do, together. It is something we must do, not to rewrite history over the recession but to influence another landmark event in our nation’s future.

I will be honest; as an unequivocal left-winger I can see the argument for Brexit. Not for immigration but as a fight against a gigantic bureaucracy that subverts democracy and privatises our country’s assets in the name of a free market. Further I can see the argument for Remain as a means of providing stability for our country’s economy and supporting internationalism. The argument I could never understand was why one vote would automatically make you a racist or a bleeding-heart-liberal. We are all gradients on the same spectrum and regardless of which way any individual voted on such a multi-faceted issue we are still human beings that want what is best for our families and us.

“We should be united to fight for the values of a health service that provides cradle to grave”

This is what we should remember as nurses in the future negotiations and discourse surrounding Brexit. We should be united to fight for the values of a health service that provides cradle to grave. We should support fair pay, education and benefits for our staff and students because it is beneficial for society, our patients and our budgets in the long-term. We should demand to see increased investment in our health service and allied sectors; may I provisionally suggest £350m a week?

The mass media will continue to say that we are a country divided, hate crime is on the rise, racism will take over our country and we must cut ourselves out of another recession. This is done not in truth, but to shape the reality of the post-Brexit world we are entering. Racism only wins if we let it. Privatisation only happens if we allow it. We, as the people of this nation, as voters, are the decision makers. Brexit, of all things, should prove that to you.

“The establishment will try to take the NHS and fair pay from us because they want to asset-strip this country in the name of profit”

It is our choice if we choose to believe the hype and view the 50% of the country who voted the opposite way as ’the enemy’. I urge all of you, whether students or registered professionals not to, especially as viewing those who voted Leave as racist would mean that, according to the Nursing Times Brexit survey, 51% of nurses are racist. It is a ridiculous proposition given that racism involves thinking of a group of people as one homogenous group who all think, feel, look and act the same - essentially, the ‘other’. Isn’t it ironic that it’s precisely the rhetoric used when describing people who voted Leave – that it was a bunch of racist Northerners who are so uneducated that they didn’t know what they we’re voting for?

Brexit was a complex issue and one that parts of both the North and South voted for in an attempt to regain some semblance of power for themselves after years of neglect and poverty. Theirs and the millions of other votes we’re cast in an attempt to provide a better future for themselves. That is the exact same reason for those who voted Remain. We are, all of us, human. We all think, we all love, we all feel and we all die. We all want what is best for those that we care for and the establishment will try to take the best examples of that - the NHS and fair pay - from us because they want to asset-strip this country in the name of profit. They will attempt to win with their money – it is their power. We will win with our united voices, either in public or at the ballot box, as long as we remember that there is more to our lives than the cross we placed on the 23 June 2016.

Brexit, Hard or Soft is coming and it will have an impact on us. We can either face it divided or be a united professional voice that fights for our common goals of a well-funded NHS that respects it’s workforce, including it’s students, irrespective of their nationality.

Anthony Johnson is Student Affairs Editor, Nursing Times, studying adult nursing at KCL and is one of the founders of the #BursaryOrBust campaign

Twitter @Ant8Johnson8

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New Student Affairs Editor Alan believes that nurses need to become masters of their own profession and leaders in healthcare.

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