NHS trusts in London are offering to cover visa costs for their European Union nurses to encourage them to stay after Brexit.
University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust are among those that have pledged to foot the bill for their healthcare staff to apply for “settled status”.
“The health service cannot afford to lose any more of its highly-skilled nurses”
Without it, EU nationals may have to leave after December 2020, noted commentators in yesterday’s Evening Standard newspaper.
The move comes after data showed the number of people from the European Economic Area who joined the Nursing and Midwifery Council register fell by 87% in 2017-18, compared to the previous year, while 29% more EEA nurses and midwives left it.
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Further losses of EU nurses risks deepening the workforce crisis already gripping the NHS as many trusts struggle with high vacancies.
Jude Diggins, regional director of the Royal College of Nursing’s London branch, welcomed what she described as “bold steps” from trusts in the capital to ensure they retained their EU nurses post-Brexit.
She added: “At a time when the number of empty nursing posts in London is at its highest, the health service cannot afford to lose any more of its highly-skilled nurses, especially those from Europe who generally go through high-quality equivalent nurse training in their home countries.
“By supporting their EU staff to stay, hospitals can also avoid going outside Europe to recruit replacements, the costs for which can be expensive,” she said.
“The number of nursing staff from Europe working in London’s health services is twice the national average and without them it is highly unlikely that the health service would be able to meet demand safely,” she noted.
“Our colleagues from all over Europe are key parts of the vibrant and diverse communities that make London such an exciting place to live and work, and long may that continue,” said Ms Diggins.
According to a House of Commons document released last month, 11% of NHS staﬀ in London are from an EU country outside Britain, compared with a national average of 5.6%.
“It’s now abundantly clear that Brexit is very bad news for NHS staffing”
Dr Mike Galsworthy, from the campaign group NHS Against Brexit, said: “It’s now abundantly clear that Brexit is very bad news for NHS staffing.
“Not only have the uncertainty and hostile environment been chasing off critical EU staff, but Brexit itself is a wasteful bonfire of money associated with new bureaucracies,” he said.
“When you consider how short-staffed the NHS is, this is alarming for patient safety as we approach another winter crisis,” added Mr Glasworthy.
The Home Office is giving health and social care workers the chance to apply to its new EU Settlement Scheme from 29 November 2018, four months before it opens to the general public. Applications costs £65 for adults.
“Settled status” will allow people to have unrestricted rights to remain in the UK. EU citizens who have been in the UK for less than five years can apply for “pre-settled status”. The deadline for application is June 2021.
In a letter seen by Nursing Times and sent to EU staff at UCLH, the trust’s chief executive, Professor Marcel Levi said: “Regardless of Brexit, we want you to stay with us at UCLH.”
Ben Morrin, workforce director at UCLH, said: “We have around 1,300 staff from mainland Europe and Ireland who are fundamental to the care we provide to our patients. We value their contribution greatly and want to support them in whichever way we can.”
A spokesman from Guy’s and St Thomas’ said it had around 2,000 EU staff, including more than 750 nurses and midwives.
“This is the right thing to do for our EU staff who are a vital part of Guy’s and St Thomas’ and is also a cost effective way to support staff retention,” he added.
“Like all our staff, EU colleagues are valued members of our team who make an enormous contribution to the services we provide every day.”
St George’s wrote on Twitter: “We are covering the costs of EU staff applying for settled status. Our 1,000+ EU staff are highly valued, and make an enormous contribution to the services we provide every day.”
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A Home Office spokesman said the EU Settlement Scheme would make it “simple and straightforward” for EU citizens to stay in the UK after Brexit.
He said the cost of applying to the scheme was less than the cost of renewing a British passport.
He added: “As the home secretary recently announced, we are providing all EU citizens working in the health and social care sector across the UK with an opportunity to apply early to the EU Settlement Scheme as part of its testing phase, giving greater assurance to staff who may be worried about their status.”