Five years ago I decided to move to London from Italy and develop my career. Since then I have seen large numbers of nurses moving to the UK from many European Union (EU) countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal and Poland.
They have come with a shared motivation to work as nurses, care for patients and to grow as professionals.
On a positive note, I have conducted a recent survey of Italian nurses working in the UK and found that they are happy with the choice they made to move to the UK.
“We must aim to keep the profession attractive”
However the International Language English Test System (IELTS) which guarantees that nurses have the right English language skills has resulted in a massive decline in applications from the EU for jobs in the NHS at a time which there are over 40,000 nursing vacancies. This has a direct influence on patient care.
In addition to that, the decision to leave the EU has given European nurses doubts and anxiety about what could happen to them after Brexit. Facing the nursing shortage and the decline of EU nurses moving into the UK we urgently need a plan to fill the gaps. How can we do that?
First the NHS should clearly signal to European nurses that they are still more than welcome to come and work in UK. We must continue to actively recruit EU nurses.
We must aim to keep the profession attractive by continuing to offer benefits to the workers such as discounts in services as shops, restaurants and pubs.
We must acknowledge that English language skills are still a problem and the NHS could introduce courses to integrate new EU starters.
Many EU nurses feel they lose their skills when they come to the UK and we need a fast-track system to access nurse capabilities and allow them to use their pre-existing knowledge.
An example could be assessing their skills during the induction time or on the ward by senior staff and clinical educators. If their competencies don’t achieve the standards of the trust where they are working then they can attend study days held at the trust. Failure to do this can lead to poor job satisfaction, frustration and reduced confidence.
Many EU nurses come to the UK with a huge amount of past experience that needs to be acknowledged and used to develop services and to support others in nursing teams.
A happy nurse who feels supported by their organisation or trust, or a nurse with the clinical and technical skills and knowledge to be able to look after patients using evidence-based care can start a chain reaction to stimulate other EU nurses to come and work in the UK.
The increase of the workforce in the NHS can help to maintain high standards of care and address the nursing shortage.
Stefano Cerri is staff nurse, intensive care unit, Charing Cross Hospital, Imperial College Healthcare Trust