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College chief warns of ‘nurses on Zimmer frames’ after Brexit


The leader of the Royal College of Nursing has warned that patients could be cared for by nurses on Zimmer frames if the retirement age is raised following Brexit. 

Dame Donna Kinnair was giving evidence to a committee set up to scrutinise the bill that will end free movement in the UK for people from other European Union countries.

“I suspect we will have nurses on Zimmer frames pushing patients on Zimmer frames if we continue to carry on in this manner”

Donna Kinnair

Labour MP and committee member Alison McGovern questioned Dame Donna on what the nursing profession’s views would be if the government was required to raised to retirement age to 70 as a result of immigration policy changes.

Dame Donna warned that if this happened then the UK could see “nurses on zimmer frames pushing patients on zimmer frames” and added that increasing the retirement age for nurses would have to be done “with great caution”.

“On the impact of raising the retirement age for nurses, nursing is a very physically demanding job,” she said. “There is an anticipation – people are already talking about this, but I suspect we will have nurses on Zimmer frames pushing patients on Zimmer frames if we continue to carry on in this manner.

“Nursing is a very physically demanding job and you also have to be mentally on the ball to give the drugs and the care; it is quite a high-pressured environment,” she said.

“So it sounds very easy – ’Let’s just raise the retirement age’ – but people physically need to have the stamina to be able to deliver the care to patients, whether it is in their homes or in hospitals,” said Dame Donna.

”My view, and I have written about this, is that raising the retirement age is something we do with great caution for the nursing community,” she added.

The government is proposing a new “skills-based” immigration system that will prioritise access to those earning at least £30,000 annually, regardless of their nationality.

“The whole process is arbitrary and we think that it would impact negatively on the workforce”

Donna Kinnair

Dame Donna warned the committee that the loss of any nurse as a result of Brexit risked destabilising the care sector. 

Asked if she believed ending free movement would have a negative affect on the UK care sector, she said: “We have a large proportion of EU workers; 10% to 11% of nursing workers are from the EU currently, and with a backdrop of 42,000 vacancies in nursing, losing any nurse is a problem, so this does have unintended consequences.”

The RCN leader said there had been a reliance by successive governments on international recruitment of nurses rather than growing a domestic supply.

“So whether we are talking about people from the EU or outside the EU, anything that inhibits that will impact on our ability to deliver care to the people of this country,” she added.

Dame Donna told the committee that the £30,000 threshold would “damage our profession” if it were applied to it, particularly in social care due to lower wages.

”The £30,000 is an arbitrary figure and we do not understand where it has come from,” she said. “Most skilled nurses that come into the country from overseas are not getting that.

“We know that there have been some exemptions, but the whole process is arbitrary and we think that it would impact negatively on the workforce on which we are highly reliant,”  she added.

Dame Donna said the immigration system should be based on acutal skills rather than salary. 

“I think that we know what we need in this country,” she said. “We know that we need nurses, so it might be that we are looking for that skill, as opposed to an arbitrary salary figure.”



Readers' comments (8)

  • karen Webb

    Those of us who trained in the early 1980s spent a lot of time as 18 year olds moving 20+ stone patients using now proscribed cradle and Australian lifts. We shifted greater weight per shift than builders and coal merchants. We had no slide sheets, pat slides or hoists! The outcome was damage to our backs and joints. Many of us live with arthritis and long term conditions and 12 hour shifts at frenetic pace in short staffed community teams or hospital wards performing complex nursing procedures, excercising clinical judgements upon which the lives of our patients depend will not be appropriate for many. It should be for individuals to decide whether in their opinion they are fit to work within their code of conduct. If not then they should be entitled to retire without loss. The government consistently wants to have its cake and eat it as far as nurses and HCAs are concerned. Nursing is a physical as well as intellectual and social profession and we cannot all be protected by “light duties”. Enough is enough for goodness sake!

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  • Stephen Kernohan

    Well Said Karen Webb. I am turning 50 this year and practice as a medication endorsed enrolled nurse in a Private Hospital (Australia still employs Enrolled Nurses that basically do the same job as RN's barring 2-3 significant tasks). I would gladly swap 80% of the staff on the ward in which I work with 65-70 year old nurses trained outside of the university system. Unfortunately I am stuck with Laissez Faire RN's who would gladly leave their patients soaked in urine, faeces and blood, IV pumps alarming incessantly, NBM signs up above their bed when they are actually eating and patient call bells alarming left right and centre because THEY SEEM TO THINK THEY ONLY HAVE TO ANSWER THE CALL BELLS OF THE PATIENTS ALLOCATED TO THEM!! Not to mention they are well above cleaning the pan rooms as they have a degree. And, of course they cry "bullying and intimidation" when approached about their lack of care. I work 12 hour night duty over weekends to earn a decent wage and often spend up to 3 hours just fixing the patients bedding and surroundings while answering call bells and administering medications. Most frustrating! Bring back Hospital Training!!! The universities in Sydney don't seem to believe that my 12 years of Nursing skills is worth any credit recognition. I started a degree at University Technology Sydney (who pride themselves for having earned the number 1 slot for best nursing course world wide). I left on the day they were teaching me to make a bed!! Go figure!!

    Actual Event: 35 y/o female patient day 4 following abdominal surgery and deep scraping endometriosis. Her urine output had been low and was undergoing two days (yes two days) of fluid challenge. Her IDC output did not increase. She had two drains with high output. On my first nightshift of my week it was handed over that Dr. ___________ was aware of high drain output as she had extensive wash out. What nobody noticed that the drain output rapidly increased with her IV fluid challenge. DO YOU THINK ANY OF THE RNS SNIFFED THE DRAIN FLUID?? No I did that... an EN incapable of gaining university credit. URINE IN HER ABDOMEN HAVING HAD HER RIGHT URETER SNIPPED DURING SURGERY!

    To summarise BRING BACK YOUR OLD NURSES!!!!!!

    Stephen Kernohan

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  • At 57 and just started a new career in nursing in a Nursing Home I can honestly say I have never worked as hard in my life. I swear that physically and mentally working in Nursing homes is for the younger Nurses, keeping up with the pace and walking/trotting 6 to 8 mile a day round the home takes it's toll never mind all the moving and handling as well and medication administration and keeping that smile on the face.

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  • I can't think of many situations where nurses will be able to keep working until they're 70, that's madness!! I'm 56, and have significant damage to my back from physical moving & handling, and am now finding my feet and knees are hurting after 12 hours on a ward. The pace is too much; much more patient throughput and intensive work then 30 years ago, and this is likely to continue to increase. I can't wait to retire, and am looking at ways to finish early. No one can do this job until they're 70 - it would be seriously detrimental to nurses physical and mental health; and so would be putting patients at risk of below standard care & increased risk of errors causing harm. Surely this can't be a serious contender to solve a staffing crisis??!

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  • I agree with what has already been said. I trained in 1982 and like many developed a chronic back condition, arthritis in the joints including knees and hips and sciatica which conmes and goes. Pounding the concrete ward floors has caused the knee damage. I am still able to carry out my duties but at the end of a shift I tend to feel 90 instead of my 55 yrs. We have the same arguments as the Fire Service in that with the best will in the world as we get older in our demanding proffesions we are physicaly less able to cope with the stresses and strains. Raising the retirement age is not the answer looking at why we are not attracting people to nurse training and what is causing Nurses to leave the profession early should be what the powers that be should be looking at. Most of us at the coal face are already aware of what should be done or at least adressed it is a pity that the easy option always seems to be the chosen option not the correct option. The pay and bursary fiascos I would have hoped might have stimulated the correct discussions but apparently not it would seem.

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  • Is there actually a proscribed retirement age for Nurses in 2019 given the equality legislation?
    I am not aware of this .
    I believe there are registrants on the NMC register in their 70's.

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  • Nursing is undervalued and the NHS is struggling to recruit, as wages like many professions within the NHS are now competing with that which you can earn in a local supermarket, with far less worry or responsibility.

    The situation is a sad reflection on what little is thought of about caring/nursing in our society.

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  • Bring back the old nurses and how they were trained. standards seem to have dropped, nurses are far more detached from patients and their needs for care, the healthcare support workers actually do what was at one time seen as nursing care.

    Nurses seem to prefer delegation as opposed to rolling up their uniforms and getting stuck in to deal with a patient. Selection and training of staff needs to return to basics of what nursing is all about, to easy an option now to become a specialist nurse and be removed from caring for patients.

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