EU nurses 'turning their backs on UK'

The decline in EU nurses and midwives wanting to work in the UK since the referendum is continuing, figures show.

The trend was first noticed earlier this year, and now a new batch of figures released by the Nursing and Midwifery Council have reinforced the idea that Brexit is having an impact.

In September the register showed just over 36,200 EU nurses and midwives – over 2,700 less than a year before.

But ministers said a rise in training places would compensate for the drop.

That will take some time to start having an impact though, and union leaders believe the government in England may struggle to fill these places as they have removed bursaries for nursing degrees and introduced fees.

What do these figures show?

The data released by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) cover the number of nurses and midwives registered to work in the UK, not the numbers actually working.

Rises in the numbers of nurses and midwives leaving the register was seen among all types of staff – those trained in the UK, in the EU and in the rest of the world.

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But what marked the EU trend out was the rate of change being seen.

There was a 67% rise in the number of EU nurses and midwives leaving the register in the 12 months up to September compared to the same period the year before.

By comparison the number of UK-trained staff leaving the register rose by less than 10%.

That rise in leavers was off-set by just over 1,000 new joiners from the EU, but that in itself was an 89% drop in the numbers who signed up the year before.

The NMC pointed out this change in new joiners was also likely to have been influenced by the introduction of English language testing around the same time as the Brexit vote in the summer of 2016.

Overall, the number of nurses and midwives on the register has started to drop for the first time in a decade.

There were just under 690,000 nurses and midwives registered to work in the UK in September – over 1,600 less than there were the year before.

This comes at a time when unions report there are significant shortages in the number of nurses employed by the NHS.

Research by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said there were over 40,000 unfilled vacancies – one in nine posts.

Trend causing concern

The NMC said the rising numbers leaving the profession across the board was “worrying” and needed to be responded to.

An ageing workforce, which is seeing growing numbers reach retirement age, and the pressures of working in the health service have been cited as factors for UK-trained nurses leaving the register.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said it was “no surprise” EU nurses were also turning their backs on the UK given what was happening with Brexit.

“These alarming new figures represent a double whammy for the NHS and patients.”

But the Department of Health played down the significance of the overall drop, pointing out it represented a “mere” 0.2% fall in the numbers registered to work.

A spokeswoman said the number of training places would increase by 25% in the coming years and that ministers had been “very clear” that EU nationals would remain a valued part of the workforce after Brexit.


Are you an EU nurse or midwife who has stopped working in the UK? Are you considering leaving? Let us know about your experiences. Email haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk with your stories.

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