Nobody voted to kill the NHS, yet with the prospect of leaving Europe without a deal and ending the freedom of movement for EU citizens the Government might as well start planning its funeral.
Home secretary Priti Patel’s determination for border restrictions to be imposed immediately on October 31 – stripping EU citizens of their rights to work and live in the UK – will have a huge impact on the 65,000 EU citizens who work for the NHS. People like me, who treat you and your loved ones, and help keep the health service afloat.
I was born in Spain in the 70s and, growing up, I admired Great Britain. As a toddler my parents used to put me to sleep listening to The Beatles music. My favourite TV programmes were Blackadder, The Young Ones and Faulty Towers. As a teenager my favourite groups were Oasis and Blur. I admired its fashion, its culture and multiculturalism.
I studied nursing in Spain and, after finishing in 1997, I tried to find a permanent job for three years but ended up delivering pizzas to try to pay my bills. I was demoralised and fed up.
I wanted to be a nurse and my only option was to look for work abroad so, 19 years ago, I came to the UK to pursue my dream. I landed in Luton on bonfire night with just £50 in my pocket and a suitcase full of hope and I have worked hard for the NHS ever since.
In those 19 years, I fell in love here, married here, bought my first house here, had my children here and I fulfilled my dream of being a nurse here. The UK is my home. I always felt it was home, but Brexit turned our lives upside down. I no longer feel at home.
My rights are protected for seven years but, should we leave the EU without a deal, I worry my future could be in limbo despite my career and family being in the UK. This worry has taken a huge toll on my health, I am currently on anti-depressants and in therapy to cope. And I’m not alone.
Because of the hostile environment, originally pioneered by former prime minister Theresa May, more than 10,000 of my EU colleagues have had enough and already left our NHS.
Our Save our NHS campaign will be heading for Market Square in Nottingham on 14th September 2019, from 12 noon to 2pm.
A lot of people voted for Brexit because they wanted to help the NHS, but the same people who splashed the famous £350million on the side of the red bus, are now prepared to take away the rights of EU citizens who, along with many other immigrants, are the backbone of it.
The NHS suffered from staff shortages and tight budgets long before Brexit. It has lost over 200,000 nurses since the Conservatives came into power in 2011 – that’s 90 a day.
We currently have over 40,000 nursing vacancies, but the lack of nurses is not just a British problem. The WHO estimates that the world will need an additional nine million nurses and midwives by 2030. With the current situation, why would a European nurse come to the UK?
We desperately need more nurses – yes ideally British nurses could fill the gaps but the number of nursing students given places to study at British universities has fallen to lowest number since 2013.
The NHS needs EU citizens. As I am writing this I am asking myself if I would have come to Great Britain 20 years ago without the freedom of movement and with the current hostile environment created by Brexit? The answer is no.
What Boris Johnson and his government don’t seem to realise is that nurses and doctors are highly valued and in high demand in other parts of the world. Since Brexit, I have been bombarded on a weekly basis by emails offering jobs in the USA, Australia, Germany or Saudi Arabia.
The UK is no longer the first choice for EU nurses looking for a job. The lack of staffing is compromising the delivery of safe care and we have a ticking bomb in our hands.
Freedom of movement is one of the main reason why our beloved NHS still standing on its feet. The end of free movement will probably be the last nail in the coffin for our beloved NHS. Nobody voted for that.
By Joan Pons Laplana,
British Journal Of Nursing’s Nurse of the Year 2018
Joan will be one of the main speakers at our Save our NHS rally on Saturday, September 14 by the Brian Clough statue in Nottingham.