Since the EU referendum in 2016, there have been many heated debates about how Brexit will affect foreign NHS workers. Here at HCL, we are exploring how nurses will be affected by the coming changes.

The nursing workforce now


Overall, 12% of NHS staff say their nationality is not British. In 2015/16, 11% of those joining the NHS were EU nationals (counting those for whom a nationality was known) while in 2016/17, this fell to 9%. For nurses the percentage of EU joiners fell from 19% in 2015/16 to 12% in 2016/17.


In 2016/17, 11% of nurses leaving the NHS were EU nationals, up from 9% in 2015/16.
However, the number of nursing vacancies seems to be increasing – between 2013 and 2015 there was a 50% increase in nursing vacancies, and the current vacancy rate for nurses is 9% and growing. As of March 2017, there were 11,400 vacant nursing posts.

Brexit vs English language

In spite of the insistence by the mainstream media that Brexit is scaring nurses away, our research and stats reflect a fairly clear picture: the EU workers are there and continue to apply for jobs.

In 2017 we compiled a detailed whitepaper on how English language test scoring is preventing a huge number of qualified EU workers from coming to the UK. The whitepaper, written in conjunction with language testing experts and several senior NHS trust heads, confirmed that huge numbers of healthcare professionals across the EU are in limbo – unable to score the required level 7 in all categories, so unable to join the NHS.

The study also confirmed that the test banding was unjustifiably tough. In November 2017 it became possible for foreign nurses to alternatively take OET as a proof of English language proficiency. The various trust representatives were emphatic with their views too: Brexit was not impacting their recruitment of EU staff. Indeed, many were frustrated that a false impression was being given by the media.

We also surveyed EU nurses who we’ve placed in roles over the last few years, hoping to get a sense of what their biggest challenges have been – and if they’ve left the UK, what had triggered the move. More than 35% of respondents, whether they’ve stayed in the UK or not, specifically referenced the IELTS test as their number one problem. Brexit, by contrast, was mentioned by less than 15% of respondents. Language challenges, in general, were also mentioned by many of the nurses surveyed.

Brexit is certainly a factor in both retaining and attracting foreign nursing workforce at the NHS. However, our findings show that the English language testing difficulty is currently a more definitivebarrier for EU nurses.

Have you say on whether Brexit has an effect on you or not in our poll.


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