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”
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”
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.
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.
- RCN says it will remain neutral over EU referendum
- Midwives’ union latest to declare position on EU
- Unison to campaign for UK to stay in European Union
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 www.nursingtimes.net to join in the debate.