Chris Smyth reports in The Times 27th Jan 2017: Staff crisis grows as foreign nurses abandon the NHS – Don’t say we didn’t warn you… Nursing levels have led to a locum bonanza, and are going to get worse…. We are undercapacity – whether it’s for your lawn or an operation…
European nurses are giving up on the NHS, with the number arriving to work in Britain down more than 90 per cent since the Brexit vote.
A total of 101 EU nurses registered last month, down from 1,304 in July, according to figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).
More European nurses are also leaving, prompting fears that Britain may be seeing the start of an exodus of the staff who have kept hospitals running in recent years.
Hospitals are already struggling to find enough qualified nurses, with tens of thousands of vacancies and many wards dangerously understaffed.
Hospitals turned to the EU after a damning report into the Mid Staffordshire scandal four years ago warned against cutting staff to save money. Recruiting missions were dispatched to Spain, Greece and other countries to increase the numbers of their citizens working in the NHS.
There are now 38,661 EU and European Economic Area (EEA) nurses registered to work in Britain, up from 16,798 in 2013.
However, since the referendum last June and with the introduction of tougher language tests last year, there has been a dramatic fall in new arrivals. In 2015-16 9,388 EU nurses came to work in Britain but the number arriving has fallen every month since July.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “If this is the beginning of a long-term drop in the number of nurses coming to the UK from other parts of the EU, that’s a serious concern at a time when we’re already facing a crisis in nurse staffing numbers. With 24,000 nursing vacancies across the UK, the NHS simply could not cope without the contribution from EU nurses.
“We need a guarantee that EU nationals working in the NHS can remain. Without that, it will be much harder to retain and recruit staff from the EU, and patient care will suffer as a result.”
In December 318 EU staff left the nursing register, up from 177 last June, meaning 331 fewer working in Britain than in September.
Jackie Smith, chief executive of the NMC, said: “This is the first sign of a change following the EU referendum and it is our responsibility as the regulator to share these figures with the public.”
English language tests were toughened last year for newly arriving nurses. Only 453 application packs were requested last month compared with 3,697 in January 2016, the month before test requirements were raised.
Paul Myatt, of the hospitals’ group NHS Providers, said: “This is an early warning sign and needs to be monitored closely. There is already a high nursing vacancy rate in many parts of the country so if this drop-off continues over the next few months it would definitely be concerning.
“Members are saying to us that Brexit has created uncertainly for staff who are already here at the same time as trusts are finding that the EEA pool of nurses is increasingly depleted.”
Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, told MPs earlier this week that it was a priority to guarantee the right of European NHS staff to work in Britain “forever”, but Theresa May has refused to offer assurances pending a deal on the status of Britons living in Europe.
Earlier this month official figures revealed that almost every NHS hospital has too few nurses on the wards, with warnings that patients were going unwashed, unfed and untreated because of a lack of staff. Analysis found that 96 per cent of 214 hospitals failed to meet their planned level of nurses during October day shifts, up from 85 per cent two years ago.
Efforts to replace them with home-grown nurses were dealt a blow last month when universities said applications for nursing degrees fell 20 per cent last year. Ministers scrapped bursaries and required nursing students to take out loans for their courses, arguing that this would lead to 10,000 more places.