A quietly published Guardian article earlier in March (accessible here) revealed that since the EU referendum in June, the number of EU nationals registering as nurses has dropped by 92%, while record numbers are leaving the NHS in England.
The haemorrhaging of foreign staff is being blamed by the RCN on the UK Government's failure to provide EU nationals with security regarding their right to remain and work in the UK. The Scottish Government has made repeated calls to secure an early reassurance to those in Scotland that they remain welcomed and valued. Meanwhile, Theresa May has repeatedly stated that the UK will not act unilaterally to guarantee residency on the presumption that this would weaken the negotiating hand during Brexit, despite it being a 'key early focus' of the negotiation.
There are an estimated 57,000 EU nationals working in the NHS across the UK - of whom around 10,000 are doctors and 20,000 are nurses - the loss of whom would result in the crippling of services.
A freedom of information request by the Liberal Democrats in England revealed that 2,700 EU national nurses left the NHS in 2016 compared to 1,600 EU nurses in 2014; a staggering 68% increase.
At present the Scottish Government cannot give absolute assurances of residency to our EU staff and colleagues in Scotland, as such powers remain reserved. However repeated calls for such assurances have seemingly fallen upon deaf ears in Westminster as the UK Government initiates Brexit with 3 million bargaining chips in the form of EU citizens resident in the UK. If the UK Government is serious about a Brexit deal that works for all of the UK it must recognise the essential role that EU nationals play in helping to deliver our world class health service and protect their rights as a matter of urgency.
If we are to provide a health care system that continues to excel in providing world-class care we must be in a position to attract the best staff into our health service. An independent Scotland would have the powers to set its own immigration policy and be able to better plan for, and accommodate, those who wish to live and work here. As Nicola Sturgeon recently stated, 'Scotland is not full' and we need the continued contribution of our foreign colleagues, from the EU and beyond, to help support our NHS.