When Nursing Times last went to press on 24 June – the day on which the UK woke up to its decision to quit the EU – the most widespread feeling was one of shock.
It felt like the country had a hangover, like it was the day after the office party. Some people were even thinking they’d done something that in the cold light of day they weren’t quite sure about.
As the day progressed, it was like the haze lifting from a big night out: you slowly recall what happened and recognise the consequences. The two major political parties in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are in disarray; the country effectively has no prime minister to provide the leadership it needs; the value of the pound has been at a 31-year low (although it has now recovered slightly); and people who have lived peacefully side by side for years have started to tear into one another.
Everything is affected. So the results of those Xs on ballot papers marked leave are being felt in nursing, too. Chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings – and various other senior figures – wanted to reassure the NHS that it was business as usual. They emphasised how welcome the talented, caring nurses from the EU who provide care for our population are. But that wasn’t what those nurses were feeling (read the story here). In the days since the referendum, some nurses from Spain, Italy and a host of other EU countries have told us they felt, at best, unwanted. At worst, they felt victimised, bullied and forced to reconsider whether staying to continue their careers in the UK was the right thing to do.
Let’s not forget these nurses have saved our health service. We should be grateful to them for propping up an NHS that we failed to adequately workforce plan for. To make them feel in any way unwelcome or unvalued is unforgiveable. I have heard that some nurses from overseas have been on the receiving end of deeply unpleasant behaviour – and some of that has been from other nurses.
Nurses must be compassionate to each other first and foremost. If you see intolerance – towards patients, service users or staff – have the courage not to walk past it.
It’s shocking to think that nurses are not being treated with respect simply because they weren’t born in the UK. I hope this is not the new world we accept. But it’s up to the profession and the health service to make sure it isn’t.