The Government needs to be absolutely clear that EU nationals living and working here in the UK will be allowed to stay if and when the UK leaves the European Union.
It is wrong that they are living in limbo, with the UK Government toying with their future and using them as bargaining chips as they prepare for exit negotiations. With some reports, such as this one, suggesting that those negotiations might not even start until the end of next year, it could be a long wait before Italian, Spanish and other EU midwives have any sense of security over their right to stay here.
The RCM has obtained official figures showing that in England the equivalent of 1,192 full-time NHS midwives are from other EU countries. At one trust in central London around one midwife in three (32.2%) is from elsewhere in the European Union. With the shortage across England already running at around 3,500, these are midwives we can ill afford to lose.
Almost two months ago, in this blogpost, I called on the Government to give a commitment to EU nationals who have made the UK their home. It becomes even more urgent as time passes, so I repeat that call today. The longer their future remains in doubt the more likely it is that they will decide to leave the UK and return home, taking their skills and experience with them.
London is the most dependent part of England, with the equivalent of 674 full-time midwives (16% of the total midwifery workforce in London) coming from other EU countries. But even in two trusts outside of London – Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust – more than 10% of midwives are from elsewhere in the EU, according to the figures.
Losing these midwives will be a catastrophic blow to maternity care in the areas they cover. It would push the shortage of midwives in England up to approaching 5,000. In London alone the shortage would be well in excess of 1,000 full-time midwives. Care would be worse, potentially even unsafe in the worst-hit trusts – and it would all be entirely self-inflicted.
I would hope that everyone, however they voted in the referendum, would be able to agree that these midwives – working in our health service, paying their taxes – are doing a valuable job that benefits the UK. If they leave, we lose over 1,000 midwives; if they stay, we don’t. It’s not a difficult decision. They should be told that whatever happens in the negotiations, they can stay.