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

Exclusive: Nurse views on EU referendum revealed


The margin between nurses who plan to vote to leave or remain in the European Union is extremely narrow, with “Brexit” just edging ahead, reveals an exclusive poll by Nursing Times.

Our survey of more than 500 nurses indicates that 43% of respondents will vote to leave the EU in next week’s referendum on 23 June. However, 41% said they were intending to vote to remain.

“I think that the NHS will do fine if Britain votes to leave”

Survey respondent

A further 15% told Nursing Times they were yet to make up their minds on which way they would vote.

Analysis of the results revealed a marked association between voting trends and age, with more nurses in the 17-35 age group saying they would vote to “remain” and more in the 36-55 bracket and older intending to vote to “leave”.

We also asked nurses which result they thought would be better for nursing and the NHS as a whole, sparking conflicting answers on issues such as staffing, pay and occupational health.

One respondent said: “I think that the NHS will do fine if Britain votes to leave.” But another warned: “The NHS would crumble without staff and especially nurses from the EU.”

According to our poll, more respondents thought staying in the EU would be better for the nursing workforce, in terms of supply of staff to the UK health and care sector – 42% backing remain versus 28% for leave.

As regularly reported by Nursing Times over recent years, many trusts have proactively sought to recruit nurses from EU countries to fill vacancies during the ongoing national nursing staff shortage.

“The NHS would crumble without staff and especially nurses from the EU”

Survey respondent

In a BBC interview last month, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens highlighted that health service had “benefitted enormously” from employing overseas nurses from Europe. He warned that “if only a proportion” of nurses and doctors chose to leave the UK it would create “real problems”.

More respondents also thought remaining in the EU would be better for the nursing working in terms of employment rights and health safety at work – 44% supporting remain compared with 19% for Brexit.

In contrast, slightly more respondents thought leaving the EU would be better for their pay – 31% versus 29% saying that remaining in the EU would be better for NHS pay and 25% who thought the referendum result would make no difference on the issue of remuneration.

In recent weeks the health service has been the focus of heated debate between politicians from the remain and leave campaigns. Much of the argument has centred on whether money potentially saved through Brexit would be spent instead on the NHS.


Source: James Steidl - Fotolia

The leave campaign has widely quoted the cost of EU membership as being £350m per week, while remain has argued that this figure is £164m per week, once the UK’s rebate and the money received by public sector institutions is taken into account.

Our survey suggested that the leave campaign was getting its message across more effectively, with 45% of respondents believing that exiting the EU would be better for NHS finances, compared to 29% backing staying in and 11% who said the result would make no difference.

We also asked nurses for their views on other factors associated with the referendum.

A lot of nurses complained that both sides in the campaign were making conflicting claims, leaving them confused, and that there was a need for unbiased information.

The results suggested that neither of the official campaigns – Vote Leave and Britain Stronger in Europe – were trusted very highly regarding the information they were using to support their case.

More than half of survey respondents, 52%, indicated they trusted neither side on this issue, perhaps reflecting wider public complaints that the two campaigns regularly put out contradictory information.

As previously reported, several organisations representing healthcare professionals have declared an official position in the referendum.

Unison and the Royal College of Midwives have both aligned themselves with the remain campaign, while the Royal College of Nursing has said it is neutral but is urging its members to vote.

Our survey suggested that such intervention was unwelcome for many, with the largest group of respondents, 36%, saying that no organisations except for the official campaigns should actively back one side or the other.

When asked generally about their thoughts on the referendum, a number of respondents highlighted the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade deal – more often referred to as the TTIP. The deal, currently being negotiated between the EU and the US, is designed to ease trade restrictions but has sparked concerns from unions that it could lead to more NHS services being privatised.

The government has repeatedly claimed that national health services are not covered by the deal.

The largest group of respondents, 39%, described their work setting as an NHS acute hospital, followed by 15% who said NHS community services and 15% university or academia.

In terms of role, nearly 30% of respondents described themselves as staff nurses or equivalent, and 22% as students.

  • Nursing Times will publish the full survey results online from 15 June along with more analysis and expert opinion. Visit to join in the debate.

Readers' comments (9)

  • michael stone

    Personally, I find it stomach-churning that the brexiteers came out with 'leave and we could spend an extra £350m a year on the NHS', when I feel sure that many of those politicians in the brexit camp would never have voted to establish an NHS which is 'essentially free at the point of use and paid for out of general taxation', would dismantle the NHS if they got the chance by 'privatising' it, or by turning it into an insurance-based scheme, etc.

    This is completely disingenuous - and Sarah Wollaston, seems to have been unable to stomach it !

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • If we LEAVE We will still be able to recruit from the EU as we do now from other parts of the world. Nurses will still want to come to the UK - the difference will be we can dictate our terms of reference regarding previous training, language, clinical skills etc as we do now for non EU applicants!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Yes, but the question is how deep will be the next recession. We have already decided that after obtaining RGN qualification and in the case of Brexit, we will be going back. It might become somewhat difficult to care about the people and to work with the people that hate working immigrants so much. Oh, and by the way, immigration from the EU constitutes only 24% of the whole migration since 1990. If you think your Brexit vote will stop the 'hordes of migrant invaders', you are terribly, terribly wrong.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • 'with more nurses in the 17-35 age group saying they would vote to “remain” .' I assume 21 is the age for registration?? So this is a bit broader than meets the eye-ball.
    Just some points: 1) The EU - as distinct from what went before - is a political not economic union in its purpose, and was designed to replace nation states. 2) As such, eventually, it would be an EU Health Service not the NHS, as we would all be unified. New ventures cannot be 'nationalised' industries but must be open across the EU market - hence, the railways (Corbyn-Labour) cannot be re-nationalised under EU-rules. 3) The finance sector would, in ever closer union, be the EU centre of finance: possible responses to that would be a) money leaves the City when it becomes nearer; b) it doesn't leave the City initally, but EU-control makes it unsustainable for business, so it then leaves after experiencing EU-control, c) the City, under EU-control survives well, but as it is EU based in London, London really has no hold or benefit from it in that it could be based anywhere, now we are all one, federal union.

    In any case, Parliament won't allow the financial-sector to fall, so we would be leaving anyway. My view is, if voting Remain, understand that leaving will likely happen anyway within 5-yrs. Certainly, if there is a Remain-vote, there will likely be a changing of the guard at the Gen. Election. All in all, the EU won' survive. But do you wish, therefore, to initiate leave and the transitional-yrs that smooth the path, whilst stil having a several yr until the Gen.election. Or, do you wish to Remain and let Parliament bring you out some yrs down the road? Parliament still being sovereign.

    As far as nursing-stock goes. It is the job of employers to source staff responsibly - be it from here or from abroad. They ought to be able to manage to do that - whether we are in or out.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Time to reclaim our own destiny, Britain out. Up yours Cameron.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The conditions and pay of UK born nurses will continue to suffer until we stop foreign nurses coming to this country. Why can the NMC treat nurses so badly, whilst charging them inflation busting fees? Why can trusts roughshod over nurses over work life balance and pay? Because if UK nurses won't do it we can Easyjet in some replacements, whose own countries are so poor that the UK appeals. Just this week my employer sent me a letter saying they are halving my hourly rate!! They have been actively recruiting foreign nurse this is not a coincidence. If NHS staff don't want their pay and conditions to deteriorate they need to vote OUT!!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • It's a shame you did not publish your survey methodology. You have printed articles in the past on why it is important to do this.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Ellen Watters

    I'm an innie. I believe European directives will protect pay and working conditions...

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Hi!
    I´m a Spanish nurse. I´ve been working for the same ward for more than 2 years. I´m leaving England if it votes out and other Spanish nurses will do the same.
    We do exams to work in our hospitals in Spain. We also have to show the length of time we´ve been working in a public hospital within the EU. That means that if I work within the EU, Spain will consider my experience, but if I work outside the EU, Spain won´t consider anything. I´d rather work in Spain if Brexit happens.
    The reasons why I came here were: salary was similar to Spain, it was a permanent contract (Spain would have offered me a temporary contract at that time), I wanted to learn a different culture and I was offered a job with respiratory patients, which is my favorite.

    I agree with people who think that immigration could be improved after Brexit, but in this particular case of NHS and nurses, my point of view is that it will be a big problem.
    It is not a problem of money. It is a problem of people wanting to work as a nurse in some cities and some departments. Many new qualified nurses (qualified in the UK) want to work in Australia and US, but England can´t compete with that. They don´t go there only because of the salary,there are other reasons.

    I understand the point of view that if immigrants accept jobs for less money, then, salaries will drop, but that is not the case of the NHS right now. Do you prefer nurses who earn more than 1700 pounds being short of staff everyday or do you prefer more nurses earning 1700 pounds although they´re immigrants.

    NHS system has got a lof good things and it fails (at least the trust where I work) when we are short of staff. When we get agency nurses, it is helpful, but the NHS needs to pay more money and the care is usually not as good.
    I have the basic skills for my ward but I´ve also been doing trainings and I´m competent in things that my colleagues don´t do and I´m improving my practise daily focusing on our ward. NHS needs to invest in people who will stay in the country for years. Some people don´t realise that if England is no longer in the EU, it won´t be as appealing for nurses from Spain, so they will look for a job in Spain, Sweden, France, among others.

    I hope this example can help to find some light in this difficult decision.

    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.