Leaving the EU could reduce the nursing workforce by as many as 30,000, speakers at the RCN Congress in Glasgow said.
Andy Bassett-Scott, a nurse from Yorkshire, said that it would be impossible to replace the nurses from the EU if Britain voted to leave, adding that 'if [the government] hack away at bursaries, and impose loans, we are not going to get those students through.'
The debate was proposed by Jason Warriner, from the RCN Public Health Forum, who said that, while the EU has limited responsibility when it comes to healthcare, things such as the working time directive and the reciprocal recognition of qualifications affect nurses. ‘By staying in Europe, we can influence the future of nursing and have a voice,’ he said.
Former RCN president Dame Betty Kershaw said that it was important that women were involved in the referendum, due to the struggle suffragettes went through to secure the franchise. ‘I don’t mind how you vote, but please just vote,’ she said. She also stated that she did not think that the £8billion that the UK contributes to the EU would not be diverted to health and social care, despite the claims of the leave campaign.
Maggy Heaton from the Lancashire West Branch disagreed with the previous speakers, stating that research would continue despite the removal of EU funding, and that it was ‘inconceivable’ that employment rights would disappear if the UK leaves the EU.
Dr Carol Hall from the Education Forum lauded the Erasmus programme, funded by the EU, which allows students to study in other European countries. She said nursing students had benefited from the programme and brought what they learned back to the UK. ‘Education is about promoting inclusivity,’ she added. Many speakers condemned the divisive nature of the campaign, saying that the debate had been exceptionally partisan. One speaker mentioned racism and violence as a result of the referendum. Dave Dawes from the North West Branch said whatever the result of Thursday’s vote, nurses would be needed ‘like never before to help wounds heal.'