As the government prepares to trigger the UK’s exit from the European Union, nursing organisations are set to launch a campaign to make it clear overseas nurses are welcome and highly valued by the NHS.
The campaign, which has the backing of the Royal College of Nursing and Unison, is the brainchild of senior nurse Joan Pons Laplana who is originally from Spain and has worked in the NHS for 17 years.
“The campaign message is the NHS is still welcoming nurses from overseas”
Joan Pons Laplana
Mr Pons Laplana, who works as a transformation nurse at James Paget University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said he was prompted to take action because many overseas nurses felt anxious about the future, especially with Brexit on the horizon.
“The message the government is sending by not guaranteeing the right to stay is a negative message and people are worried we’re not welcome any more,” he told Nursing Times.
“But that’s not the truth on the ground – if you talk to trusts and hospitals they want us,” he said. “My message is that, despite this uncertainty, the NHS is still the best place to work or to become a nurse – the career opportunities are incredible.”
Mr Pons Laplana said he was a case in point. “I came to this country with nothing – with £50 in my suitcase – and now I am one of the most senior nurses in my hospital,” he said. “If I can do it, anybody can. The campaign message is the NHS is still welcoming nurses from overseas.”
The campaign, which is aimed at nurses from both EU and non-EU countries, will kick off with a social media drive on Facebook and Twitter featuring images of overseas nurses who currently work in the NHS.
“People really need that reassurance at the moment”
Joan Pons Laplana
The launch will co-oincide with the triggering of Article 50 next week, which will set the UK on track for leaving the EU.
Mr Pons Laplana said it was important to show images of real nurses who had come to live and work in the UK from abroad in order “that others can identify with”.
“People are worried they are going to get sent back, but nobody is going to send back anybody,” he said.
“However, at the moment that message is not clear, so the idea of the campaign is to give a positive message to reassure people,” he said. “People really need that reassurance at the moment.”
Joan Pons Laplana
He added that those behind the move hoped to work with organisations like NHS Employers and NHS England, as well as chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings, to develop the campaign further and tie it in with wider efforts to promote the image of the profession.
Mr Pons Laplana said the plan was to make a video in the next few months that would feature overseas nurses and senior figures from the world of nursing.
Last week, England’s CNO said NHS nurses from EU countries would need the support of their colleagues in the coming months.
Professor Jane Cummings noted the “uncertain future” faced by nurses from other European countries working in the health service, with evidence suggesting healthcare workers are increasingly considering their future ahead of the UK’s forthcoming exit from the EU.
Speaking at her annual summit, she highlighted that the NHS “will continue to make them feel welcome” during the coming months, reiterating that they currently comprise 4% of the nursing and midwifery workforce.
Prior to the EU referendum, nursing directors had increasingly turned to Europe to bolster their establishments at a time when the country faces a recruitment crisis due a shortage of nurses.
Latest figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council have already indicated a significant slow-down in EU nurses applying to join the UK register, though it is unclear whether this is solely to do with Brexit or also the result of more stringent language testing.
Earlier this month, the House of Lords voted in favour of an amendment to the Brexit bill calling for the UK to protect the long-term rights of EU citizens already in the UK to remain in the country.
It was one of two amendments to the bill that peers backed and that were subsequently rejected by MPs in the House of Commons.
Prime minister Theresa May is expected to trigger Article 50, which formally starts the Brexit process, on 29 March 2017.
- Mr Pons Laplana said he was keen to hear from any overseas nurses who would like to take part in the video. Anyone interested in getting involved can contact Mr Pons Laplana via Twitter at @roaringnurse