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”
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”
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.”