Here's how Brexit could impact on NHS workers on the Fylde coast
Uncertainty surrounding Brexit is causing nurses to leave 'in their droves' and 'threatens to bring the NHS to its knees', a leading union has warned.
The prophecy came after it emerged skilled migrants could have to earn at least £30,000 before being allowed into the UK after the planned exit from the European Union next year.
Some 139 EU workers have left their roles at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Victoria Hospital in the resort and Clifton Hospital in St Annes, in the past three years.
Most were Irish, Spanish, or Italian, figures obtained by The Gazette showed, with the others French, Greek, German, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, and Ukrainian.
Around 220 of the trust’s 6,700-strong workforce are classed as “non-UK EU nationals”, and most are understood to earn less than £30,000.
Estephanie Dunn, regional director at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the largest professional nursing union in the world, said: “Just weeks ago, the health secretary Matt Hancock told the RCN that any nurse working in the NHS, who is an EU national, is ‘welcome, needed, and valued’, yet these rumours would indicate the contrary and add to the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit that has seen EU nurses leaving the NHS in their droves.”
She added: “Whilst this is just one of the contributing factors to staffing shortages in our NHS trusts, it is one that is placing significant and unprecedented pressure on already stretched services.
“There has been a 27.5 per cent rise over the past two years in the number of nursing job vacancies being advertised by North West NHS trusts, which is a clear sign of the staff shortage that threatens to bring the NHS to its knees.”
Ms Dunn said the touted £30,000 barrier “will discourage EU nurses from joining or staying in the profession in the North West when they are urgently needed due to falling numbers of nursing students and nursing staff from non-EU nationals due to an increase in the Immigration Health Surcharge”, which people coming to the UK to study have to pay. The fee is £150-a-year and is intended to help fund the NHS.
The NHS has long relied on overseas workers due to a shortage nationally, with Blackpool Teaching Hospitals holding recruitment drives overseas in recent years.
“EU nurses contribute significantly to the region’s health and social care, and bring with them a huge range of skills, expertise, and knowledge,” Ms Dunn said.
“The risk of losing this workforce would be devastating and we will be closely monitoring these developments.”
Irish nationals (39) make up the biggest group of EU workers at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals, followed by those from Poland (37), and Romania (31), figures released under Freedom of Information laws showed.
While those from Ireland work in a wide variety of roles, from dietitian to midwife and from matron to speech and language therapist, the main positions held by Poles are healthcare assistants. The most commonly held position among Romanian nationals is staff nurse.
Healthcare assistants earn between £17,460 and £18,702, NHS figures showed.
While nurses can fall into different pay categories – or ‘bands’ – around two thirds of all Blackpool Teaching Hospitals workers are at band five, which tops out at £29,608, or lower.
Band six roles, which range in pay from £28,050 to £36,644, include experienced paramedics, biomedical scientists, and school nurses.
The £30,000 minimum salary is feared to be included in forthcoming draft plans for immigration restrictions post-Brexit.
It was expected to be published before Christmas but reports suggested it could be further delayed due to Cabinet splits.
That is because chancellor Philip Hammond and business secretary Greg Clark are reportedly pushing for the proposed minimum salary to be reduced or for further jobs to be made exempt from the restriction.
A source told a national newspaper: “The £30,000 figure has not been nailed down, which is why the White Paper might not be this week.
“We are still aiming to publish on Wednesday [today] but that is looking unlikely.”
The Home Office said it would not be drawn on speculation about the immigration plan.
Blackpool South’s Labour MP Gordon Marsden said that, if the £30,000 figure is announced and passed, it would have an impact of people working in key public services across the Fylde coast.
He added: “Certainly in Blackpool there will be lots of people – not only in the NHS but other key parts of the economy – who could be caught out by this.”
NHS staff in Blackpool started trialling a new process to allow EU residents to stay in the UK after Brexit in August.
The ‘Settlement Scheme’ will “make it easier for EU citizens to get the status they need, and when it is launched they will only need to complete three key steps,” immigration minister Caroline Noakes said previously.
The steps are to “prove their identity, show they live in the UK, and declare any criminal convictions”, she added.
Ms Dunn welcomed the voluntary scheme, which the Department of Health and Social Care yesterday said was being “implemented on a phased basis and be fully open” by the end of next March.
Feedback so far “has been very positive”, a government report said. It added: “So far, all applicants have been granted the leave they expected, with no cases refused.”