Brexit may stem outflow of nursing staff, claims recruiter

Stephen McLarnon says overcrowding in Britain ‘putting some Irish nurses off’ going

The United Kingdom 's exit from the European Union may cut the numbers of nurses who are quitting Irish hospitals to work in the National Health Service, a leading healthcare recruiter has said.

The number of applications by nurses from other EU countries to work in English hospitals has fallen by 96 per cent since last year’s Brexit referendum, it was announced on Monday.

Just 46 nurses from EU nations registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council in April, compared with 1,304 who had applied in July last year, immediately after the UK had voted to leave the EU.

The fall in EU applications has raised fears among NHS executives about their ability to staff wards, though some of the gap will be filled by hiring recruits from outside the EU.


Stephen McLarnon, chief executive of Health Sector Jobs, said he believed stories about overcrowding and ward closures in Britain are “putting some Irish nurses off” going to work there.

Mr McLarnon, who regularly holds recruitment fairs, disagreed with general secretary of the Irish Nurses' and Midwives' Organisation Liam Doran, who last week warned that Brexit would see more nurses leave Ireland.

Meanwhile, the recruitment traffic runs both ways. Last week, 100 nurses and midwives in Scotland applied to work with the Health Service Executive in Ireland at a fair organised by Mr McLarnon’s company.

Competitive market

The Scottish event marked the first effort by the HSE to recruit directly staff currently working for the NHS: “These numbers are big in an extremely competitive labour market for nurses and midwives,” said Mr McLarnon.

The fall in post-Brexit applications to the NHS is as much about the UK’s Nursing and Midwifery Council decision to introduce mandatory English language testing for all nurses – both EU and non-EEA – as it was about Brexit, he said.

“NHS England is short over 20,000 nurses – some say 24,000 across the entire NHS. Staff shortage in NHS hospitals, while not as acute as in some Irish hospitals, is putting some Irish nurses off with similar stories of overcrowding in A&E and ward closures,” Mr McLernon said.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in the UK at present and this is hurting the NHS, but not at Ireland’s expense.”

Figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI) were also showing a slowdown in Irish-trained nurses registering to work in the UK, he added.

Last week Mr Doran said Brexit would make it even harder for Ireland to attract and retain doctors, radiographers, physiotherapists and other professionals.

Speaking to the Seanad’s Brexit committee, he said Brexit would make UK health authorities intensify their strategy of “aggressively recruiting” nurses from Ireland to fill shortages.

Parts of the NHS such as Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, in London, are hiring graduates trained in Ireland as soon as they are registered and before they begin working here.

Emigration plans

An INMO member survey suggested nearly eight out of 10 respondents (78.1 per cent), the majority of whom were 23 years or under, are considering emigration upon qualification.

Some 78.8 per cent said they would consider staying in the Irish public health service for at least a year upon qualifying if offered guaranteed permanent contracts. But almost 72 per cent had not been offered a permanent post by their current employer, despite the fact the HSE said in 2016 it would offer permanent positions to all new 2017 graduates.

The INMO said the NHS continued to offer contracts and attractive packages to internship students as early as January.

“The HSE continues to offer contracts that are not permanent contracts and a lot later in the year, in late April or May.”

The next Health Sector Jobs fair takes place in Cork this Saturday and there will also be recruitment drives in Dublin and Birmingham in the autumn.