Anette Pollner, EU citizen and ex-NHS staff member, writes about her fears for Brexit's effect on the NHS.
Brexit will be the end of the NHS as we know it. I think that’s pretty clear now.
Certainly, in the event of a no deal Brexit, plans have emerged to change the NHS to an American style private insurance system. Even if there is a deal, funding for the NHS will be severely cut because of the dramatic downturn in the UK economy that will follow any deal that is now being discussed.
In other words, it will be the end of the NHS.
The end of the most exceptional heath service in the world, a service that is part of my life in many ways.
When I first started working for the NHS as a staff counselor in the final year of my training, I saw the NHS perhaps at its best in the last few decades. During the Labour government years, funding had arrived, departments were expanding. The department I was working for at Bart’s Hospital in London was probably the best managed workplace I’ve ever experienced, in a long life of working both in the public sector and the private sector.
Being a staff counselor also gave me a great overview of the people who work in the NHS. Our clients ranged from hospital porters to hospital managers, and included support staff of all kinds, but most of our clients were nurses. The nurses came from many different countries and many of them, like me, were EU citizens. At that time, and any time up to the referendum, being an EU citizen in the NHS was completely unremarkable. As far as I remember, it was never mentioned. That’s how normal it was.
The issues that brought NHS staff to our counseling department never included discrimination against EU citizens, not once. Not once.
This department, by the way, which addressed vital issues and was very cost effective for the hospital in terms of staff retention and avoiding conflicts and absences, seems to have been replaced by an outsourced EAP service.
At the same time, and earlier, I was also an NHS patient.
I had a serious health issue, and when I was sick I could just walk into the GP practice and get help. I was working, of course, and paying taxes, of course. But I didn’t need any paperwork in order to access the NHS. Nobody asked me anything that was not directly related to my health.
Again, being an EU citizen was never mentioned. Over the course of several years, I had to have a number of painful and complicated day surgeries. Most of the nurses and many of the doctors who looked after me were not British, and many were EU citizens, something that I didn’t think much about and that I’m only remembering now, in the times of attempted Brexit.
The surgery I had was scary, and painful, and I am still a bit traumatized by it. Not everything was handled perfectly, but in the end, the outcome has been very good for me.
NHS funding increased during the years of my surgeries, and we went from the head of the department at London University Hospitals having to assess visible symptoms by the light of one naked light bulb in his office to a much better staffed hospital.
When I look at the NHS now, I can see that the situation is worse than I have seen it in 30 years. And now, for the first time in my memory, some of the staff are very much identified as EU citizens and separated out as ‘foreign’. They are forced to see themselves as ‘not belonging’. And who knows if I, as an EU citizen, will be able to access the NHS after Brexit. Nobody knows.
I am writing here because I want the NHS to survive.
I would actually also like to survive, too, for as long as possible, just me, you know, a human being.
But in order to achieve that goal, I need the NHS.
I won’t survive without it.
Recently, I’ve become involved in international doctors’ mock exams for the NHS. My (freelance, part time) job is to play a patient, to a specific script, and then to give the international doctors points on their communication skills. The students I work with will go into an NHS that is so underfunded that many of the treatments they suggest to me as a ‘mock’ patient would probably no longer be offered in reality even now.
Whatever your nationality or personal politics, please don’t allow Brexit to destroy the NHS.
If it is killed off, many of us will die a premature death.
That’s the terrible truth.