Joan Pons Laplana - "Brexit will kill the NHS"

Happy birthday NHS?

In July the NHS celebrated its 70th birthday. It should be a time for celebration, but as a nurse I have the duty of care to tell you that our healthcare system is on its last leg, and Brexit will kill the NHS.

Our NHS is a fantastic institution that is the envy of the rest of the world - but the NHS would not have been possible without the contribution of migrants. Migrants have played a vital role in the construction of the NHS since its creation, and without them the NHS would not have been possible. More recently Indian, Filipino and European doctors and nurses have come to the UK, making the NHS one of the most multicultural organisations in the world. Over 200 nationalities work alongside each other - 1 in 4 doctors is a migrant and 1 in 7 nurses is from overseas.

Diversity is what makes the NHS the best health system in the world.

I am one of them. I came to the UK in the year 2000 to pursue my dream of becoming a nurse. I landed in Luton on Bonfire Night with just £50 in my pocket and a suitcase full of hope. I have worked hard for the NHS ever since. In these 18 years, I fell in love here, I married here, I bought my first house here, I had my children here and I fulfilled my dream of being a nurse here. The UK is my home. I always felt this WAS home.

I've never had any problems. But everything changed on 26th June 2016. The UK voted by slim majority to leave the EU. Things did not happen overnight - instead, little by little, I have seen attitudes towards migrants change. Tensions built up slowly, but Brexit was like the cork being pulled out of the champagne bottle, and all of a sudden people felt like they could express their anger. People started telling me and my fellow EU colleagues “go back to your country”, and “you took our jobs”. I have witnessed other EU citizens being intimidated on trains, and fellow passengers do nothing to stop it. Since Brexit I am more aware of my accent.

Like me, over three million EU citizens have made this country their home. But after years of living in harmony I feel betrayed by my government who have been using as a bargaining chip during the Brexit negotiations. After nearly two decades I no longer feel welcome or valued. The NHS suffered from staff shortages and tight budgets long before Brexit, but since the Brexit referendum almost 10,000 frontline staff have quit.

For the first time in history, there were more Nurses leaving the profession than entering last year. With one in three UK nurses due for retirement in the next five years, this trend that will continue in the immediate future.

European nurses are a vital part of our health care system. We rely on them to fill the gaps left by years of poor workforce planning, pay restraint and falling student numbers.

The Conservative government’s austerity measures mean that British nurses don’t want to fill these roles either. Nursing is a tough gig and not for the faint of heart; people go into it because they genuinely care, but when your salary is frozen for seven years (not even keeping up with inflation) and you struggle to provide a good quality of life for your family, even the most altruistic individual might consider a career change. 

Brexit and the hostile environment created by the government have meant an immediate and a longer-term loss of EU medical professionals. The first wave leaving are the doctors and nurses who haven’t resided in the UK that long: they can up sticks and move on to greener pastures easily. Those who have been here longer like me and are more established are not leaving yet, but we are drawing up exit plans for the near future, when their kids are grown up.

Brexit has made the staffing crisis worse. The immediate 40,000 nursing vacancies that are causing problems now are just the beginning. The future of the NHS is under threat. But what worries me more is that chronic staff shortages are making it more and more difficult to provide a minimal standard of care.

Brexit is threatening the UK’s supply of medicines and medical equipment, and threatens the cooperation on research and clinical trials which ensure that UK patients can continue to enjoy new drugs and treatments. We are the 6th economy and the fact that the government is stockpiling in food and medicines supplies is appalling. They are playing with people’s lives!

Mr Johnson forgot to write all of this on the side of a bus.

If we want the NHS to continue for another 70 years we need to stop Brexit.

We also need a staffing strategy to be produced immediately. Unless we close the gap between increasing demand and funding, another mid-Staffordshire scandal will happen very soon. Unless the government act now the NHS will not survive another winter - but what is worse, you or a member of your family could die because staff can no longer provide the safe care that you deserve.

The big American companies are flying around like vultures waiting for their opportunity to get their hands on our NHS. Mrs May has declined to say if our NHS is part of the treading deal that they are currently negotiating with the USA.

Free healthcare at the point of access is a human right and I do not want to be part of a health service that cares more about the size of your wallet than your health problems.

We need to stop this madness and demand a final say. We need to take back control and demand a People’s Vote.