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‘The UK is hacking away at its appeal to overseas workers’

Mark Radcliffe
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I realise that as a columnist I shouldn’t say this but I try to avoid the news as much as I can. I have for a couple of years now. I don’t really like it and I find it doesn’t help me to live my life.

Obviously stuff filters through, you can’t help it. My wife tells me things, even when I ask her not to. In fact, she slips it into general conversation sometimes to see if I am listening: “Pete and Cath are coming around Saturday, the shed has fallen over, Donald Trump is president of the US.” And because I find out the first two things are true I can only imagine that the third one might be as well. Although it is possible I got the last two muddled up and Mr Trump has fallen over and our shed is the president of the US.

I try to join in when I find out stuff. Today I said that a royal lady had had a baby and she said she knew and I said “Ahh but did you know it was called Charlotte?”. She said that was the old baby and the royal lady has had another one, which (at the time of writing) did not have a name yet. I think Scooter would be a good name by the way. Prince Scooter, have we had one of those? Or, given the royal lady is quite posh, how about Ruffles? Prince Ruffles of Mornington Crescent. That would be a fine name. This is an example of why I avoid the news by the way – I can find it distracting.

The main reason, however, is that the world is far harder to understand when you are told what is happening in it. Take the example of our government’s treatment of the Windrush generation. People who have lived here for most their lives, for whom this is their home have been labelled, undermined, bullied and destabilised. When did we become so cruel? So stupid. So downright rude.

Which brings me to nursing. Because I note that the UK government has established an “earn, learn and return” scheme with Jamaica in another attempt to mitigate the ongoing nursing recruitment crisis. It’s hard to imagine too many Jamaican nurses thinking “Yeah, Britain seems a warm and welcoming place” when they read about people being deported to countries they have never visited but had a grandparent from, isn’t it? Right now, we probably do not have an international reputation for embracing the talents, energies and skills of all comers, do we? Particularly as this move comes when the decline in the number of registered nurses is, in large part, due to a “considerable” decline in European staff.

This highlights things that should embarrass us: a political and cognitive dissonance, plain hypocrisy, a willingness to invite nurses from around the world to save our NHS while underpinning that invitation with an aggressive and shortsighted attitude to immigration.

But, of course, it isn’t just nurses from overseas who are leaving nursing. Lots of tired, disenchanted nurses are leaving, and the main reason they give is poor staffing levels. We appear to have created a perfect storm.

In the UK we have a history of taking nurses out of other people’s countries and leaving health systems elsewhere to struggle. It would be nice to imagine this current “earn, learn and return” scheme will offer a more balanced exchange of skills and opportunities, even though it exists, at root, to solve our own recruitment crisis. But given that it is taking place against a backdrop of deportations to Commonwealth countries and underpinned by an aggressive immigration policy, it is hard to keep the faith isn’t it? Or for me, at least, to watch the news.

Mark Radcliffe is author of Stranger than Kindness.

Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe

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