A bitter pill we may have to swallow?
NHS trusts are at greater risk of losing Spanish nursing staff over other nationalities under a no-deal Brexit, due to a little-known regulatory problem.
At the moment, Spanish nationals can accrue points from their work in Britain that can later be used on Spain’s public health job exchange. But, under a no-deal Brexit, NHS experience will no longer be recognised in Spain.
HSJ understands concerns are growing that Spanish staff are considering returning to their home country, as too long a stay in the UK could jeopardise their job prospects in Spain.
As of June 2018, the latest date at which data was broken down by nationality, Spanish nurses and health visitors make up 17 per cent (3,370) of the EU NHS nurse workforce in June 2018 – the second highest volume of staff from the EU after Ireland.
NHS Employers confirmed that information has been sent to nurses from the Spanish regulator to confirm that Brexit may have “an impact on their continued registration with the Spanish regulator”.
Joan Pons Lapala, a Spanish nurse who came to work in the UK in 2000 and now a clinical fellow at NHS Digital, said “Potentially we will have a catastrophe here, as potentially no more Spanish nurses [will] come here and the Spanish nurses already here will leave as we will no longer be able to gain points [to use to secure a job back home].
“It’s not a priority to the UK government but it should be as Spain is a main source of nurses and the issue is being overlooked completely. It is a ticking bomb – it is going to happen.”
Mr Pons Lapala added many of his Spanish colleagues had already left the UK to work in Ireland, which he said is now the “number one choice for Spaniards when it used to be England”.
NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: “What we clearly need is certainty for our staff and clarity from regulators and professional bodies – and quickly. The future relationship with the EU will need to set out clearly how professional experience gained in the UK might be recognised by EU member states, and vice versa.”
According to board papers published by Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group, its main acute provider Bolton Foundation Trust may lose its Spanish nursing theatre staff because of the regulatory problem.
The papers said: “Spanish nursing regulators have indicated that they will no longer recognise UK nursing experience for Spanish nationals post-Brexit… and this has meant some of our Spanish nurses in theatres have indicated that they are looking to return to Spain this year.”
The board papers said the trust was already advertising the four posts in anticipation of the staff leaving and are in discussion with a further five nurses.
David Hubert, the secretariat of the EU Network of Nurse Regulators, said: “Spain only recognises professional experience for nurses who practice in the EU. As things stand, if/when the UK leaves the European Union it will become a non-EU country and professional experience obtained in the UK henceforth will not be recognised anymore”.
The issue would be delayed if a transition period is secured but any final deal with the EU would need an agreement between the UK’s and Spain’s regulators to continue to allow the system to operate as it currently does.
A House of Commons briefing paper from October 2018 said the overall number of Spanish EU staff working in the NHS had fallen by 15 per cent between June 2016 and June 2018, which was a sharper fall than other nationalities.
The Department of Health and Social Care said: “In the event of a no-deal exit from the EU, we will seek to put in place arrangements to ensure that nursing qualifications and experience gained within the NHS are recognised in EU member states in the same way that they are in other countries”.
The government was also recently criticised for its new immigration scheme. People from the EU who wish to spend more than three years in the UK will now need to make an “application under the new skills-based future immigration system, which will begin from 2021”.
NHS Providers said the proposals “only add to the uncertainty faced by trusts as they look to recruit and retain the EU staff they need”.