I spend a lot of time in hospital – this is what Brexit voters don’t understand about the EU staff who work there

Truthfully, I have rarely felt more British than the times I have been a patient; surrounded by nurses and doctors from all over the globe while benefiting from skilled, free medical care

Elly Aylwin-Foster
The Independent Voices

For a moment it felt like any other morning in hospital. Overly bright, noisy and with the faint smell of toast wafting down the corridor. Remembering the date, I rolled over bleary-eyed to check the news on my phone. I was interrupted by my nurse, Sylvia, a Spanish national, who had arrived to start my morning IV treatment.

Our conversation ended when a gentleman from Portugal came in with my breakfast. Soon after, a Polish healthcare assistant entered the room; she confided her fears about the future to me as she took my blood pressure. I started to feel acutely uncomfortable.

Every nurse but one who came to see me that day, was an EU national. Some were new faces, others I had been treated by for years, including the specialist nurses who treat people with cystic fibrosis like myself. My condition – the most common genetic disorder in the UK, primarily affecting the lungs and pancreas – means that I am no stranger to hospitals.

From the routine clinics every three months since I was six months old, to the lengthier hospital admissions when I am not well; I’ve grown up in an NHS bolstered by EU citizens and other foreign nationals. For the last 30 years, I have been cared for by hundreds of doctors and nurses, in many hospitals.

Amongst the headlines covering the impact Brexit is forecast to have on the NHS, I don’t think we are talking enough about how critical the 12.5 per cent of foreign nationals in the NHS workforce – EU nationals make up half of that figure – are.

From the Windrush era, which saw rising numbers of Commonwealth health workers shoring up our NHS, to the increase in workers from the EEA in the last 15 years; migration has always been a cornerstone of its workforce. Perhaps that’s because an organisation that holds the title of 5th largest employer in the world with fluctuating staff requirements, is naturally dependent on the free movement of labour across the EU.




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