NHS staffing concerns mean most adults think the UK should continue to recruit nurses from the European Union after Brexit, including many who voted to leave, according to a think-tank survey.
It found 71% of those surveyed backed continuing attempts to try to attract overseas nurses from EU countries, including 65% of those who said they voted “leave” in the 2016 EU referendum.
“It’s clear that the public value the vital contribution that nurses from abroad make”
The Health Foundation, which commissioned the survey, said the research showed there were concerns around the sustainability of NHS staffing among the general public.
For example, it highlighted that 79% of respondents to the Ipsos MORI poll did not think the NHS had enough staff to provide current services.
Meanwhile, only 14% thought the UK should reduce the number of non-UK nurses working in the UK, whatever country they came from.
In addition, a further 10% believed the UK should reduce the number of EU nurses working in the NHS and other sectors, replacing them with nurses from non-EU countries.
The foundation also highlighted the previous crash in the number of overseas nurses coming to the UK in the wake of the referendum.
As previously reported, Nursing and Midwifery Council figures showed the number of new nurses coming from the EU to work in the UK has fallen by 87%, from 6,382 in 2016-17 to 805 in 2017-18.
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New analysis of the NMC data by the think-tank also shows that month on month, registration of new nurses from the EU has flatlined since the referendum result in June 2016 and April this year.
The monthly average number of EU nurses registering in the UK in the first seven months of 2016 was 940 – since January 2017 this monthly average has always been below 100, it noted.
In addition, it revealed Ireland was now the main source of new nurses recruited from the EU, while numbers from popular sources in recent years – such as Portugal and Spain – have dropped ten-fold since 2016.
Meanwhile, according to the foundation, the data shows that the inflow of nurses from non-EU countries has not increased enough to compensate for the drop.
The total number of new nurse registrants, including from the UK and abroad, in 2017-18 was 3,500 less than a year earlier in 2016-17 – a fall of more than 10%.
However, latest data published by the NMC on Wednesday indicates a recent spike in the number of overseas nurses and midwives from outside of the EU joining the UK nursing register.
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Latest figures presented during an NMC council meeting yesterday show an 86% increase in the number of nurses and midwives joining the register from outside the EU in the past three months.
The average number joining each month increased to 440 between April and June 2018 compared with an average of 237 per month, in the previous nine months.
At the end of June 2018 there were 69,425 nurses and midwives on the register from outside the EU compared with 67,534 in July 2017 – an increase of nearly 2,000.
“With one in 10 nursing post vacant, this is one of the biggest risk facing the NHS”
But, despite this, the think-tank noted that new NHS Digital workforce statistics reinforced the “overall picture of stagnation”, with nurse vacancies at 10% – equivalent to 35,000 more nurses needed.
The foundation highlighted that global recruitment had “long played” a role in helping the NHS meet its needs, with overseas nurses usually accounting for at least one in 10 joining the register.
In most years this figure has been much higher, with up to one in every two of all new nurses coming from abroad, it noted.
As a result, it warned that the fall in international registrants raised “serious concerns” about how the NHS would be sufficiently staffed, given the lack of compensatory rise in numbers trained in UK.
Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: “The NHS has a long and proud traditional of welcoming staff from across the world.
“It’s clear that the public value the vital contribution that nurses from abroad make and want to make sure that the NHS continues to welcome staff from other countries,” she said.
“The huge drop in the number of EU nurses coming to work in the NHS following the referendum is a stark reminder that we must never take overseas staff for granted,” said Ms Charlesworth.
She added: “We must make sure that the health service is an attractive and welcoming place to work for both international and home trained staff.
“With one in 10 nursing post vacant, this is one of the biggest risk facing the NHS,” she said.
“The public are right to worry about the dangerous consequences of this understaffing”
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Regardless of how people voted in the Brexit referendum, this shows they see the value of nurses from around Europe and know we desperately need to keep them.
“Uncertainties and nervousness around Brexit have seen EU nurses leaving in droves,” she said. “When there are 40,000 vacant nurse jobs in England alone and falling interest in studying nursing, the public are right to worry about the dangerous consequences of this understaffing.
“Voters and taxpayers are sending a clear message to the government – a nurse who trained in Barcelona is as welcome as a nurse who trained in Bradford, not least when the shortage is so great,” said Ms Davies.
She added: “Ministers must give greater clarity on the immigration restrictions professionals will be subject to if they wish to work in the UK post-Brexit.”