Overseas nurses recruited by the NHS from European Union countries should be granted British citizenship in order to “safeguard” health services in a “post-Brexit world”, according to a report.
The Institute for Public Policy Research said the present system for obtaining British citizenship needed urgent reform to stop a “big brain drain” of highly skilled workers in the wake of the UK voting to leave the EU.
“It is vital that valued colleagues are supported to stay”
The government should offer automatic British citizenship to all Europeans working in the NHS, to “recognise the importance of their contribution” and “prevent a health emergency”, said the report by IPPR research fellow Chris Murray.
“We recommend that the government makes a particularly generous citizenship offer to NHS workers,” it said. “Without them, the NHS would collapse. It is critical to public health that these workers do not seek jobs elsewhere.”
It also called on ministers to grant indefinite leave to remain to all EU citizens currently resident in Britain and offer automatic citizenship to all European children educated in Britain.
Additionally, it said the £1,200 fee for British citizenship should be waived for all EU citizens who have been living here for more than five years.
The think-tank highlighted that the British citizenship system had “lain unreformed for decades” and the Brexit vote had cast into doubt the “status and security” of three million EU citizens in Britain.
UK should offer EU nurses citizenship to ‘safeguard NHS’
“Swift and fundamental reform is urgently needed”, said the institute in its report – titled Becoming one of us: Reforming the UK’s citizenship system for a competitive, post-Brexit world.
“The contribution that EU workers have made to the National Health Service especially must be recognised and safeguarded,” it stated.
“The country’s social cohesion depends upon a comprehensive system that integrates the migrants who have made their lives here into the national population,” the report added.
The Royal College of Nursing said it supported the institute’s call for the position of EU nationals working for the NHS to be safeguarded.
Dame Donna Kinnair, the RCN’s director of nursing, policy and practice, said: “Without a guarantee that EU nationals working in the NHS can remain in this country it will be much harder to retain and recruit staff from the EU.”
Dame Donna Kinnair
She warned that a lack of “concrete assurances” over the future of EU nursing staff risked making the UK’s ongoing nurse shortage worse.
“It is vital that valued colleagues are supported to stay,” she said. “The IPPR is absolutely right that the NHS could not cope without the contribution of EU nationals.
“Allowing any ambiguity about our NHS workforce to continue is a completely unfair way of treating people who are caring for our friends and families every single day,” Dame Donna.
“The UK must send a clear message that the people who keep its health service going will be treated fairly,” she added.
Nick Simpson, chief executive of recruitment agency MSI Group, also backed the idea.
“Without EU workers the NHS would simply fall over,” he said. “With this in mind, we fully support the IPPR’s recommendation.”