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'Stark' decline in EU nurses coming to work in UK continues


The number of European Union nurses coming to work in the UK has continued to fall since last summer, with just 46 joining the Nursing and Midwifery Council register in April of this year, new figures have shown.

This represents a 96% decline since last July – when 1,304 European nurses joined the register – according to the Health Foundation think-tank, which collected the data following Freedom of Information requests to the NMC.

Nursing Times previously reported on the steep drop in the number of EU nurses registering to work in the UK during the last half of 2016.

At the time, the NMC proposed two potential causes driving the reduction. It said it was possibly due to new language testing rules that came in at the start of 2016 – and were still being processed until July – or the UK’s decision in June to leave the EU, or a combination of both.

In recent months, there have been growing concerns among trust chief nurses about the difficulty of the language test and resulting delays to EU nurse recruitment, as revealed by Nursing Times.

The NMC confirmed last month it would carry out a “stocktake” of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) that it currently uses.

International recruitment has become increasingly important for the UK to help it fill nurse shortages in recent years, with the majority of foreign staff now being from the EU.

Today’s data should be a “wake-up call” to politicians and health service leaders, according to the Health Foundation’s director of research and economics, Anita Charlesworth, who said action was needed to put a stop to the dwindling numbers of EU nurses.

“Without EU nurses it will be even harder for the NHS and other employers to find the staff they need”

Anita Charlesworth

However, she highlighted that the root of the UK’s staffing problem was a lack of long-term workforce planning, in combination with cuts to training places.

“The recruitment and retention of nurses is one of the biggest challenges facing health and social care, with a shortage of 30,000 nurses in England alone,” she said.

”The drop in EU nurses registering to work in the UK could not be more stark – just 46 registered to work in the UK in April,” she said. “Without EU nurses, it will be even harder for the NHS and other employers to find the staff they need to provide safe patient care.

“Clearly, action is needed to offset any further loss of EU nursing staff in the near future. But the overall shortage of 30,000 nurses is not a shortage caused by the Brexit vote,” she noted.

“These figures should act as a wake-up call to the government as they enter Brexit negotiation”

Janet Davies

“The chronic shortage of nurses is the result of years of short-term planning and cuts to training places. A sustainable, long-term approach to workforce planning is desperately needed,” added Ms Charlesworth.

Responding to today’s figures, the Royal College of Nursing stressed the importance of the contribution of EU staff and warned of “severe consequences” from the drop in numbers.

“Our nursing workforce is in a state of crisis, with more than 40,000 vacancies in England alone. Across our health service, from accident to emergency to elderly care, this puts patients at serious risk,” said RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies.

“These figures should act as a wake-up call to the government as they enter Brexit negotiations. EU staff should be left in no doubt that their contributions are welcome and valued,” she added.

Jon Skewes, director for policy, employment relations and communications at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “This is a staggering drop and one that worries the RCM greatly. We said before the referendum that we feared it would put off potential midwives coming to the UK and this is proving to be the case.

“England is already 3,500 midwives short of the numbers it needs and this serious fall is not going to help that situation,” he said. “This situation is also being compounded by the Government’s removal of bursaries for student midwives.

“This outlines why it is so critical that the government invests in maternity services and in midwives for the NHS. We have had this critical midwife shortage for over a generation,” he added.

NHS Confederation

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Niall Dickson

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health organisations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said: “EU nationals make a hugely important contribution to the delivery of health and care services, and it is only right this this is recognised.

“Their status after the UK leaves the EU is still uncertain and we continue to urge the government to guarantee the rights of EU nationals as soon as possible,” he said.

“This would be the first step towards ensuring the system is able to recruit and retain a motivated and qualified workforce fit for the 21st Century,” he said. “A clear public commitment from the government is needed, along with a firm agreement with the EU early in the negotiations.”

eu nurses health foundation

eu nurses health foundation


Readers' comments (8)

  • What a shocking piece of misinformation this is. The reduction in numbers of EU nurses coming to the UK is nothing whatsoever to do with Brexit. It is to do with the Draconian imposition of IELTS tests that have very high pass marks (unnecessarily so) . If these people were truly concerned about levels of English then they would have tested all those nurses and doctors already working for the NHS (many of who would still fail to achieve the required pass marks even today)

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  • I agree with the above! However Brexit doesn't help! Just read the press in some of the EU countries.

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  • I do agree with the above.IELTS is the root cause which we all know.

    I believe there is a higher number of non EU entrants on NMC register with all what they need to go through apart from the IELTS.

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  • Why would they want to come to the UK when they know that the NHS is being broken up & services sold off.
    They would end up filling in insurance payment forms instead of nursing patients.
    When we get the NHS back the staff will come back

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  • Doremouse

    Why would they want to come to the UK when they know that the NHS is being broken up & services sold off.
    They would end up filling in insurance payment forms instead of nursing patients.
    When we get the NHS back the staff will come back

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  • I moved to the UK 1 year ago after 10 years as a Nurse in Spain. They treat me like a new qualified. NHS is an old system, completely broken, and nobody wonders: "Why?". Why Spain, Portugal or other countries spend less money in the public health system and they are better than NHS in the rankings? I would like to have stayed working for NHS, but the protocols, the high amount of managers, special teams, bla bla bla, just bored me. It´s a systems where a HCA can do a training and collect bold or cannulate. And a nurse, after 3 years at the university, have to do the same training. It does not makes sense. I had 4 managers in a 30 beds ward. It´s crazy. NHS does not needs more money. It needs somebody who organizes and modernises it. All the trainings they spend money in, should be made at the university. And make some recycling every year. They spend 3 years at the university and when they leave, they can´t collect bloods. It´s insane. And they should empower patients to take care of themselves instead of giving them everything even if they don´t need it. I saw patients ready for discharge who staid more than 15 days waiting for placement or package of care. That is a massive cost for the hospital. But, at the end, everybody thinks it is a problem of money, more money. I think it is just easy if they want it.

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  • The whole NHS and social care / package of care system is in meltdown. I have seen patients wait more than 15 days for a package of care - and during the wait, lose their optimal independence and become reluctant to move on, citing various previously never present ailments to delay discharge, embracing the patient sick role, dependent again, comfortable in the three meals a day no expenses care at the tip of a buzzer - the relatives also start to utilise delay tactics and say things like..surely you can`t discharge her home now, I mean I have my holidays abroad booked / the bathroom isn`t decorated / she won`t be able to go into town (she never had for the past 5 years) if you discharge her / pick a reason. Relatives have had it, are exhausted, and enjoy the freedom from the burden of care, and try any means to delay discharge. Hence the whole sorry saga, the domino effect....the answer is not just in the wages - the job is emotionally draining and few staff wish to do extra hours than that necessary to pay the bills....there needs to be a total overhaul - and investigation into what can be done to stem the bleed before the country runs dry of anyone to care, as that is where we are heading. Ohh, did we not hear about robots with artificial intelligence being produced to deal with this issue....Hmm....

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  • I have to disagree that the English language test is the root cause of the problem. I worked in Saudi Arabia and learned Arabic to be able to speak to my patients, their relatives and the non English speaking medical staff. On my return to the UK, I was treated like a newly qualified nurse (I had been a Head Nurse on a specialist paediatric surgical unit) and the only work I could get was Agency work. I had to build my career from scratch, despite having been a ward manager on an oncology unit prior to leaving for the Middle East. The NHS is over burdened with Managers and under resourced on the front line. Nurses are not viewed as professionals but as work horses who have no voice. Speak up and you incur the wrath of patients, visitors, managers and the NMC, if any of the aforementioned decide to refer you. The NMC is a force by which nurses are kept in line for fear of being referred and investigated.
    Who, in their right mind, would want to be a nurse in the UK today?

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