• Nursing regulator says Brexit likely to impact “pipeline” of nurses to NHS
  • EU nurses likely to face stricter tests to work
  • Would increase NMC costs

The “pipeline” of nurses coming to the NHS may be constrained because of likely changes to the approval process for those coming from the European Union, one of the profession’s most senior officials has told HSJ.

Jackie Smith, chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, said there would be a major impact of the regulator’s ability to process applications if it were required to apply its current approval procedures for nurses from the rest of the world to those coming from the EU.

It would also mean additional costs for the NMC, she said.

She said at present 10 times more nurses came to the UK from the EU than the rest of the world.

“There would be an issue with the pipeline. If you look at the process that is in place for those coming from non-EU countries there are a number of requirements that need to be met. Not least all their documentation and verifying it all and getting their visa and coming here and taking a skills test.

“EU nurses have to verify documents with us and take an English language test, where it is appropriate, but they don’t have to get a visa. There are bound to be things that make the process longer.”

She added: “If we have come out of the single market and out of the freedom of workers to work within the European Union, what we would be facing, subject to what is finally agreed, would be applicants from France, Germany, Spain etc being treated on the same basis as nurses coming from the Philippines, America and Australia because that free movement of workers would no longer apply.

“If that is the case that means they would have to undergo what is currently in place – an online test, a skills assessment here in the UK and then a decision about whether they can go on our register.”

“At the moment applicants coming from the EU are ten to one for coming from those from other countries.”

The NHS is heavily reliant on the supply of nurses from EU countries, with around 4 per cent of the present workforce having come from union nations. The service has also struggled to fill nursing posts in recent years, leading to widespread efforts to recruit from abroad, as well as high agency costs.

In October 2015 home secretary Theresa May added nursing to the government’s shortage occupation list in response to a major problem with recruiting sufficient staff from the EU, and following lobbying by NHS England.

Ms Smith also told HSJ: “If… everyone coming from outside the UK would have to go through [the current process for non-EU nurses], we would have to assess the implication on us and the increase in resource and impact on our financial position.

“It would not mean automatically that the [nurses registration] fee would go up, absolutely not, but we would have to take a view.

“We would have to look at our resources.”

She also pointed out that the potential for Scotland to become independent also had consequences for the NMC, and other professional regulators, as they operate across all four UK countries.