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Nurses debate EU referendum impact on staffing and NHS

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Staffing levels, workers’ rights, pressure on UK health services and money for the NHS were discussed by nurses at this year’s Royal College of Nursing congress ahead of the forthcoming European Union referendum.

The RCN has announced it will not be advising its members to vote either way on 23 June, but is encouraging them to take part.

At congress yesterday, the union’s public health forum put forward the issue as a matter for discussion to look at the benefits of staying within the EU.

“Without nurses from the EU working in the UK the shortage would increase”

Jason Warriner

It noted UK laws including those on the requirement for information and consultation on collective redundancies and safeguarding employment rights had originated in the EU.

The EU’s Working Time Directive, which addresses issues such as lack of rest breaks and poorly managed shift rotas, as well as regulations on preventing sharps injuries were also highlighted as benefits from membership.

EU-derived laws on the mutual recognition of health professionals’ qualifications in Europe have created minimum standards of education for nurses, said the forum, adding that these also now allowed the Nursing and Midwifery Council to test for English language competency from EU nurses.

Forum member Jason Warriner said: “Think about the use of migration. We have 33,000 EU nurses working in the UK… The economies of countries links to what happens to the healthcare workforce. Without nurses from the EU working in the UK the shortage would increase.”

“[The EU] have no [better] access to improving healthcare than we have already ourselves”

Richard Beecham

Meanwhile, RCN member Betty Kershaw questioned the validity of claims the NHS would receive extra funding if the UK left the EU.

“The £8.8bn that is our contribution from the UK to the EU budget…We get some of that back, for instance for cancer research funds,” she said.

“I’d ask you to consider the record of this government. [It says] this £8.8bn is going to fund health, education, social care, support for benefits and the poorer people in society – for seven years we’ve had this government failing to support those people. Do you really believe that’s where the £8.8bn will go if we keep it?,” she added.

However, RCN member Richard Beecham suggested EU membership had contributed to pressure on public services in the UK.

“Every day newspapers and the media are full of pressures on our public services. Let’s please consider that next week,” he said.

He also suggested the UK did not benefit from EU workers with skills any better than those in already existing in Britain.

“The EU is made up of people all over Europe.. They have no [better] access to improving healthcare than we have already ourselves,” he said.

Matter for discussion:

That this meeting of RCN Congress discusses the benefits for nursing of remaining a member of the European Union.


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