No-one likes to feel undervalued in their job, and especially not those who work in the caring professions. NHS nurses are no exception to this, and the nursing profession in the NHS. Despite being the best part of eight months since the Brexit vote, EU nationals still have no solid commitment from the government on a guaranteed grant of Permanent Residency (PR). If there is no promises of a life if the UK how could there being promise of long term commitment from the nurses?
After all – could you uproot your entire life to move from the UK to another home in a different country without the guarantee of a future?
As a result, it is getting harder for the NHS to market itself to EU nurses simply because of this lack of clarity. Currently, there are 7000 nurses in London alone – accounting for 13% of the nursing workforce – and few of them already have Permanent Residency (PR) together with a permanent post. One leading recruitment agency has noted a 20% reduction in applications, and there has been a marked reduction in training applications to universities. The latter is easy to explain since the removal of training bursaries for nursing courses. The problem with this is that the workforce is quickly drying up. Some might then ask the question: “Why do we even need EU migrants in the NHS anyway, when we have trained nurses here? Can’t we just advertise and recruit from the UK?”
Permanent Residency Promises Broken
That’s where the numbers don’t stack up. It is also possible to assume that the extra pressures of the job, the recent bad press, and the lack of support from Jeremy Hunt and the Tories, that some of the reduction in applications comes from the job losing its appeal. Not the vocation, at all – the job.
Due to training and freedom of movement, nurses from EU countries have come freely and happily to the UK to work and often settle. Nurses are skilled workers, and in many cases the pay is significantly higher in the UK, either literally, or higher in comparison to costs and standards of living – including education, housing, and so on. However, what is not possible is for the NHS to pay foreign nurses less in order to make that a cheaper option. And the notion that EU nurses are “coming here takin’ all our jobs” misses the point that without those nurses the NHS would tumble into crisis.
So why won’t the Prime Minister put the first step forward and guarantee Permanent Residency (PR) for EU nationals working NHS nurses and doctors? Why does she keep slipping back from promise to “intention” and “negotiate”? It simply isn’t enough to satisfy the concerns of EU nationals who want to make a new life in the UK.
“Without us the NHS will just collapse.”
The numbers of EU nationals registering to work as nurses shouts volumes about just how much of an issue this is for people. In July 2016 1304 nurses registered, in comparison to just 101 in December. The next major risk is felt by nurses already working here wondering if and when they should apply for Permanent Residency – or in some cases, British Citizenship. Given the growing waiting list for these applications, many EU nationals are getting more anxious about the situation.
“Please hold the line…”
Imagine a scenario, if you would. A family from the EU moves to the UK because both parents trained as nurses and saw much better prospects for their future. When they contact UK agencies and hospitals their hands were almost bitten off with enthusiasm and a year ago they made the move with every intention that it would be long term, perhaps even permanent. Just one year later the Brexit vote (which they were not allowed to participate in) suddenly threw that all in the air. Having only been in the country for a year they couldn’t apply for Permanent Residency (PR). Their children have settled into their schools and are doing well – far better than in their home country – and have ambitions to train as Doctors or nurses, maybe engineers. However, with no guarantee of PR, the future seems .
Having to put your life on hold just because some politicians want to spend two years making deals and negotiations is hardly a welcoming thought. And that’s why many EU nationals not only feel threatened by Brexit, but they feel rejected by the uncertainty it hands them: like being placed on hold listening to dreadful music, occasionally being told “thanks for holding – your call is important to us..”. Some feel genuinely hurt that there is an inference that they are not wanted or valued. Others maybe choose to vote with their feet and go back to their EU country, taking heir training, skills and experience elsewhere. That might look good for immigration statistics for some, and it might tick some quota boxes, but it could also sink the NHS.
So I suppose we have to weigh up the options and ask an important question Which is more important: appeasing anti-immigration attitudes, or trying to save the NHS? Isn’t it time we started to show a more caring attitude to our staff and our NHS in order for them to be there to care for the patients?
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A lot of the information on this topic can be found on BBC Inside Out, London, 06/