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Exclusive: European nurses feel chill after Brexit vote


Overseas nurses are already starting to feel anxious about their immigration status and whether they remain welcome in the UK, while rumours of bullying are also emerging.

As a result, Nursing Times has been warned that fewer nurses and midwives from abroad could come to work following the country’s historic vote to leave the European Union on 23 June.

“This is just an impression but it has also somehow become less welcome in a way”

Serena Ruffoni

Trainee nurses from the EU told Nursing Times that these concerns, as well as the fact the country could suffer economically as a result of a “Brexit”, meant there was a risk the UK was now a less attractive place to work.

Meanwhile, unions last week spoke of healthcare workers who had been verbally abused since the result of the vote, and of those who feared they would not be as accepted in the UK from now on.

The snapshot of how nurses are feeling after the referendum comes as the health secretary, chief nursing officer for England and directors of nursing across the country strove to reassure EU staff working in the NHS and care sector that they are “valued and hugely appreciated”.

Flo Panel-Coates, chief nurse at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said that although it was too early to predict how much the vote would impact on recruitment of overseas nurses, EU nurses were anxious about staying in the country due to uncertainties surrounding Brexit.

“There has been an initial wobble where some people are saying ‘Am I wanted in the country?’, and what does this mean, if for example, I am an Italian nurse – which was one of the conversations I had last night,” she told Nursing Times.

“With the nurses and other professionals I’ve spoken to, I’ve reassured them as much as I can with the information I have, which is that they are valued, needed and wanted. We couldn’t cope without them,” she added.

“At this early stage we haven’t seen an impact on recruitment and we are not aware of any impact on contracts, but that is only based on the information we have at this point in time. At this stage, it is really important we stabilise people’s anxieties and help them feel safe and wanted,” she said.

Royal College of Midwives

Unions attack ‘ill-informed’ bursary reform plans

Jon Skewes

Jon Skewes, policy director at the Royal College of Midwives, said the union was receiving reports from officers across the country about members concerned about their immigration status, as well as feeling unwanted.

“The immediate impact is the feeling those staff just may not be welcome in this country,” he said. “We have heard of incidents where midwives have been either abused or told to go home by members of the public.

“There’s also been a situation where a couple of people were not from the EU. They are British citizens but black or from an ethnic monitory, and those people have been abused as well,” he said.

Mr Skewes also noted the expected negative impact on the economy could make the NHS a less desirable place for overseas citizens to work and could lead to less applying.

Student nurse Serena Ruffoni, who is from Italy and is training at London South Bank University, agreed and said she believed fewer EU nurses could look for work in the UK in the future.

“People may be deciding not to come…For reasons not related to nursing, the UK has become a place less attractive for an EU national in terms of living and working here. There will probably be a recession and you don’t know your immigration status,” she said.

“This is just an impression but it has also somehow become less welcome in a way. I haven’t been the object of [racist] incidents reported in the media, but even a few anecdotal episodes is worrying,” added Ms Ruffoni.

“It’s not a nice feeling thinking am I going to be insulted when people realise I’m not British”

Sara Sanchez

Another LSBU student nurse, Sara Sanchez, who is from Spain, said she was considering leaving the UK for the first time in the 16 years she has lived here due to the referendum result.

“I’m waiting to see what happens with Scotland. I would consider moving there is they have an agreement with the EU. Otherwise I will be considering moving out of the country,” she said.

She said she would not be paid enough as a newly qualified nurse to be able to afford an application for British citizenship if that was required for her to continue working in the UK.

She said she was also concerned she would not earn enough to meet salary thresholds required for overseas workers if that rule were also applied to EU nationals following Brexit.

Ms Sanchez said she was also concerned about people from the EU receiving racist abuse in the UK.

“You go out and you feel different. It’s nothing to do with the people around me. But it’s not a nice feeling thinking am I going to be insulted when people realise I’m not British,” she said.

She said other Spanish nurses she worked with had also said they were now looking to leave the UK.

“They are all saying in the next two years [after Brexit has started] they will move back to Spain. Even the ones that have British partners,” she said.

Joan Pons Laplana

Joan Pons Laplana

Joan Pons Laplana

However, Joan Pons Laplana, a community nurse from Spain who works at NHS Arden and Greater East Midlands Commissioning Support Unit, said he believed a Brexit would not lead to fewer foreign nurses working in the UK due to the high vacancy rate in the country.

There are around 22,000 EU nurses, health visitors and midwives working in the NHS, making up about 6.5% of the total nursing workforce according to the latest data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre. Average vacancy rates for nurses in England are estimated to be around 9.4%.

“It would be a waste of time and resources should the government say we don’t want European nurses – I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said Mr Pons Laplana, a former care maker.

“Europeans will always be welcome here because we don’t have enough nurses. That’s not a problem that will be sorted in the next five or even 10 years,” he said.

But he told Nursing Times he believed Brexit would stop the NHS from being able to recruit nurses as quickly as they do now, if they were subject to time-consuming visa application processes.

“Any extra pieces of paper or bureaucracy will make it more difficult to recruit. It will probably take longer and that will not help the current pressures we have,” he said.

“I’ve reassured them as much as I can with the information I have”

Flo Panel-Coates

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “We have always relied on people inside and outside the EU to supplement our workforce. Over the next two years, we must work out what the exit settlement will be, and find a way to retain these valuable workers.

“We are clear that the UK must remain an attractive destination for EU health workers as we are aware registration and licensing procedures for EU health professionals could become more onerous,” he said.

“Our immediate concern is to respond to the confusion and concern caused by the referendum result. As a group of employers, we are desperate to ensure colleagues feel loved and wanted,” he added.

The Royal College of Nursing said it “wholeheartedly condemned” any prejudice or racist abuse directed at nursing staff following reported incidents of abuse directed towards people working in the health service since the referendum.

RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said: “The referendum result means this is a time of uncertainty for many, but there should be zero tolerance of any abuse.”


Readers' comments (10)

  • I'm looking at Brexit from the other side.
    I am a British nurse living and working in Ireland. I've been here 12 years and can honestly say I have never been made to feel unwelcome or insulted. There has been lots of slagging going on since the vote but these are my friends and co-workers and you only know you're accepted when the there's slagging.
    The general consensus is that Brits are not classed as non-nationals and are considered to be the same as the Irish. Most people think there will continue to be a good relationship and agreement between Ireland and Britain so there will be very little difference once Brexit is completed.
    I have friends deciding who I can marry so I can get an Irish passport despite us all being married and we've decided that if I get deported it has to be to a warm country and my friends are coming too.
    I am appalled that EU nurses are being insulted and abused and I cannot believe some of the racist comments that some people have said in the media. Do people not realise that we are a diverse nation to be proud of because we accept immigrants, in the same way that expats embrace the countries that we choose to live in. The NHS can't survive without immigrants.

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  • Privatisation here we come.
    No more EU nurses and no more student bursaries.
    I do not agree with the abuse/bullying happening and it will never be justified but I can see why there has been a divide as surely the chiefs should be writing to nurses as a whole not separating them into eu nurses/uk nurses saying how as a team we are appreciated.

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  • It appears that both government &and organisations had no plan for the quite likely event that Brexit would be voted for. Had this Ref happened during the Thathcer era, I imagine it would be much higher for out, and that in such a case, immigration from the continent was minimal. People are entitled to apply for UK citizenship after 3-yrs, as far as I am aware, so Trusts could at the very least encourage staff to pursue that. The racism is a curious one as the events across the country point to an organised behaviour rather than an a localised anxiety. The pattern also bares similarity to that which happened to Labour personnel of late. This racism cannot be seen as coming from the 'Brexit' crowd, as that is illogical. You might want to look a bit more deeply to find the head of the beast, as commenting on the phenomena is just that - it isn't the main source, per se.

    Regarding the status of oversees nurses - it is predictable but unsurprising that the NHS, though a mass employer, do not take a pro-active approach. What other company cannot source employees effectively and address systemic problems? If nursing is a shortage occupation, then surely the NHS would be seeking to secure the status of these nurses retrospectively. Why is the NHS not on the case now? This is classic, centrally controlled, government will sort it mindset. You have nurses from other non-EU countries? Surely the NHS can think what to do? Perhaps privatisation will come as a result of the seeming incompetence of the NHS management.

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  • Oh dear it seems that as time goes by the magnitude of the vote is taking its toll. Surely before the general populous put their cross on that scruffy piece of paper they considered the valuable contribution the immigrant population make to this country. Sadly however, some of the more small minded amongst us, probably did not really consider this element. That said, the public have spoken of their wish to be independent. We need to put our money where our mouth is, get our heads down and pull together and put up a united front. Anyone working in this country towards this goal should be welcomed and valued, particularly it has to be said in the NHS. As human beings we are all made the same, bleed the same and will ultimately die the same. Lets move forward now to a better future for all of us but not least to ensure the comfort of the sick and dying.

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  • Jonathan Gopsill

    "What did the Roman's ever do for us?"
    Oh for goodness sake, how bloody stupid are we?
    Look at British history - without "immigrants" we would still be living in caves! I'm part Viking, Celt, Saxon + various others so what do I do now? Do I stop talking to myself or just throw random abuse and hate myself?
    Such a quandary!

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  • Anonymous 4 July, 2016 10:50 pm, why would Brexit lead to privatisation? Private companies would face the same issues to get non UK staff employed as the NHS!!
    Long term there is no reason why this will effect staffing IF the NHS made pay and conditions acceptable to UK born workers and made nursing a good career choice for students!
    By employing a foreign workforce that will accept poor pay and conditions due to their home situation it pushes these down for ALL nurses / carers

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  • Anonymous 8 July 2016 9.20.
    Not as many/different rules and regulations in private. I.e different staff patient ratios. 30+ patients to 1 qualified but increase support workers if your lucky all of which
    would be on minimum wage. Much cheaper and cuts the need for qualified nurses.

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  • Any person that can find a nurse training placement in the UK should be allowed to come here, we need nurses. I teach nursing in a University, the majority of students are from overseas, providing they can pass an entrance exam or have the appropriate qualifications the door should remain open.
    How many of our hospital consultants are white British ... if indeed you can fin one?

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  • There are literally thousands of commonwealth
    nurses trying to get UK registration but are being held back by NMC beaurocracy, expense and unfair testing. For many years the EU nurses have had an unfair advantage of gaining registration over these other overseas nurses. The NMC needs to scrap this unfair selection and start recruiting nurses worldwide using the same criteria.

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  • The NMC should be able to sort this out its very true I have worked with nurse's who I feel could not even pass the NMC new revalidation for nurse's
    If I am expected as a nurse to maintain my fitness to practise then that should be the minimum all nurse's and Dr 's should have to do. No room for one rule for one another for others.

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