Nursing the Unhealthy Side-Effects of Brexit

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By Danny Bowman, Director of Mental Health

This is the final of six blog posts looking at innovative ways in which we can reform and improve healthcare in the United Kingdom.

When we think of healthcare in the United Kingdom, it would be a surprise if every citizen didn’t immediately think of the three words that have defined our approach to health for 70 years; National Health Service.

The NHS has unquestionably been the best solution when it comes to managing our citizens health from ‘cradle to grave’, but we must not become dogmatic on healthcare.

Whilst acknowledging the importance of such a service, we need to look at new innovative solutions to the constant stress around healthcare. Although, in the final blog I examine the side-effects of Brexit on that reformation.

The issue which seems to have confused the health agenda and the direction of our healthcare system is Brexit. The complexity of trying to guess the overall outcome of the Brexit negotiations has made it hard to decipher the future of the healthcare system outside of the EU but serious questions remain.

I am not going to focus on a referendum that happened two and a bit years ago but look at one of the key anxieties after Brexit – staffing and recruitment of health workers.

A record number of nurses and midwives from the European Economic Area (EEA) have left the Nursing and Midwifery Council register between 2017-2018. It has been said that around 4000 nurses and midwives have forfeited their place on the register with only 800 coming in, resulting in a net loss of 3,157.

In addition, the Royal College of Nursing has said the number of registrants for the NMC from the European Union has fallen by 77% between 2017-2018.

This begs the question- how are we going to maintain sensible staffing numbers in the NHS if we are losing 3,157 in one year alone?

The Pro- Brexit side would argue that we can train our own nurses and midwives here in the UK, but this suggestion doesn’t stand to reason.

Since the removal of the nursing bursary, the number of citizens applying for a place at university to study nursing has fallen by a third since 2016 – there was a 23% reduction in 2017 and in 2018 there was a further reduction of 13%.

To add to all of that, In 2017 there were 133,660 nursing and midwifery vacancies in the NHS. This has been reported to cost the NHS £2.4 billion from bringing in agency workers.

The concerning findings show that firstly, we are seeing a number of nurses and midwifes from the EEA leaving the profession.

Whichever way we dress it up, we simply don’t currently have the number of UK citizens coming through the system to fill in the gaps in nursing and midwifery.

On the face of it, you could assume that the divisive nature of the last two years along with the uncertainty for EU citizens working here has led to the reduction in EU NMC registries. We don’t exactly encourage British people to go into nursing or midwifery either.

We need to take two steps to some way rectify the situation facing us – we must stop ostracising EU health workers and flippantly ignoring the contribution they have and continue to make to our health service. That is not the British way of inclusivity and respect.

Secondly, if we truly want to continue the high standards of the NHS after Brexit we need to acknowledge the need to return the nursing bursary and start a significant recruitment drive through a multitude of channels.

This could be done by creating fast streams into areas of healthcare where we have a shortfall in recruitment. We can work with the education system to enable this and in addition work with welfare agencies to enable unemployed citizens to gain the skills necessary to work in the NHS.

In the constant noise of Brexit negotiations, we must not let the vital domestic services which we rely on fall by the wayside because of blinded ideology

When whatever future government finally completes the Brexit process and returns to governing domestic issues, let us hope there is still a healthcare system left to be improved

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