I am hastily writing this piece on the way to see a director of nursing in the west country. My colleague who is on the train with me has joked with me that he thought I would definitely have had two pieces written for either outcome. But I will be honest with you, I didn’t see Brexit coming.
I always thought Remain would win out.
I should have believed what our exclusive Nursing Times poll said last month, which pretty much showed that nurses reflected the views of the whole nation. But this has been a night of surprises, dare I say it shocks, so let’s hope there are no more for our health services.
“We must remember that decisions around the health service are political, not economical”
Most importantly the NHS must be protected in the wake of this decision. In the run-up to the referendum, there have been plenty of promises made about what a vote to leave would do for the health service, and plenty of threats about how it would damage the service. Now, in the aftermath of all those claims, whoever is in charge must make sure that the services that protect the health and wellbeing of the nation are not threatened but preserved.
My fear is that whoever is in charge of this government will use this as an excuse to cut services even more. But we must remember that decisions around the health service are political, not economical. We decide how we fund our country’s services, and what we prioritise, and this is not a time for removing money from the NHS. Now is a time to get even smarter with the way we fund our healthcare provision. We must be more innovative around prevention, and around protecting the wellbeing of the public so that there is less reliance on the NHS, and less strain on its resources.
“Nigel Farage has already stated this morning that the £350m a week that was pledged to the NHS was a miscalculation”
Because, of course, the £350m a week that was pledged to the NHS isn’t coming tomorrow or any time soon – just as we predicted a few weeks ago. In fact, Nigel Farage has already stated this morning that this was a miscalculation – something Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, conservative MP and leader of the health select committee Sarah Wollaston and many of the other Remain campaigners told the public at the time.
Some of the money we gave to the EU funded research and pharmaceutical development, and those companies that were in receipt of those funds will now be looking to the government, hoping that it will replace the cash it got from Brussels with money that’s been handed back to our Treasury.
“Many unions have been pretty clear that a vote to leave would threaten workers’ rights”
Other issues with the Brexit that must be overcome are that of the pensions of thousands of health workers, who now fear they have been decimated overnight.
Many unions have been pretty clear that a vote to leave would threaten workers’ rights, and point to the vast improvements made in public sector pay and conditions since we joined the EU, especially for part-time, low-earning women. These must also be protected. We cannot make a departure from the EU a retrograde step.
The most worrying thing is that we have now added uncertainty to the mix of an under-resourced health service, a staff shortage and a struggle to retain nurses we recruit from here and overseas.
“Many homegrown nurses may well vote with their feet and head to another country”
Many homegrown nurses may well vote with their feet and head to another country, and many nurses from overseas will not stay because they feel insecure over visas and their career longevity in the UK. The truth is, we didn’t train enough doctors and nurses and we rely on an overseas workforce to look after our nation’s health. If there is any threat to that, we threaten the safety of our healthcare services and the patients and service users.
Ensuring our NHS, care homes and other private sector providers are able to continue to employ high-quality clinicians and other workers is the number one priority for us. We must all focus on that, and hold the politicians to account. The thing that many people in this country are most proud of is our free-at-the-point-of-use NHS. Let’s not lose that. But let’s remember it’s also not acceptable to keep it at the expense of the workforce propping it up.