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The impact of Brexit and COVID-19 on nursing in the UK

08 July 2021
4 min read
Volume 30 · Issue 13

Over the years, many experts have stated that nursing in the UK is in crisis and nurses are struggling owing to the increasing number of older and sicker patients, staff shortages and budget cuts that have affected working conditions (Beech et al, 2019). With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented levels of pressure were placed on an already strained nursing workforce. Hospital admissions of patients with life-threatening illness reached new highs, leading to a drastic increase in patient acuity levels that affected everyone working in the NHS. This prompted the Government to deliver a warning that the NHS was at risk of being overwhelmed (Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), 2021a).

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned that leaving the European Union (EU) would possibly exacerbate the NHS staffing crisis (RCN, 2019), posing a danger to patient care. And a review published in The Lancet argued that all forms of Brexit would negatively affect the NHS (Fahy et al, 2017). A year after the 2016 referendum, figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), showed that the number of European Economic Area (EEA) nurses joining the register, had dropped from around 10 000 to around 1000 (NMC, 2017). Furthermore, in 2019, nearly 5000 EEA-trained nurses and midwives had left the NHS, over a period of 2 years, with 51% of those who responded to the NMC survey claiming that Brexit was the contributing factor (NMC, 2019).

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