Quick guide to the EU Referendum for nurses.

How important is the EU Referendum for nurses?  In a nutshell?  Very.

Nursing could arguably be one of the professions most affected by the outcome,  and the NHS is certainly being used as a key battle ground for both sides of the argument.

Vote Leave argue that the £350 million we ‘send to Brussels’ every week could be spent on the NHS.  Britain Stronger in Europe suggest we will face £40bn of budget cuts if we leave, hitting the NHS hard.


Image ©Jacquie Hughes and kindly reproduced with permission from the artist.

Why will the referendum affect nursing?

The Royal College of Nursing states it does not have a position on the referendum, but it does detail the role of the EU in shaping our profession.

EU policies and legislation have had a major impact on policy issues that directly impact on nurses’ working lives, such as employment rights; equal opportunities; health and safety at work; environmental and consumer protection. (Royal College of Nursing)

Often derided, EU health and safety initiatives have undoubtedly improved the health and wellbeing of health professionals and patients, including many we now take for granted. For example:

  • Manual handling
  • Prevention of SHARPS injuries
  • Biohazard management

In addition, working conditions for nurses have significantly improved with the introduction of the EU working time directive.

Common minimum requirements in nurse education mean that EU nurses (including UK) can move freely between countries and practice to an agreed standard.  NHS Trusts have been actively targeting our european colleagues to fill the 10,000 unfilled nursing posts across the UK.  Over 20% of UK nurses are born abroad.

Similarly, the UK is the biggest exporter of nurses, with 50,000 of us working abroad, including in the EU.

Women and Europe

As 90% of the nursing workforce is female, it is important to consider the impact EU employment laws have had on women.

  • Equal rights for part-time workers and those on fixed term contracts.
  • Maternity leave
  • Equal pay
  • Anti-discrimination laws

It’s unclear what the impact of leaving the EU might be on these issues.


Or Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement.  Read more about it here.

This has caused a great deal of concern in relation to the NHS, which it’s feared could essentially be privatised and sold to the US.  There is a counter argument however, that the EU is negotiating safeguards within TTIP to protect the NHS.

Key figures in the field argue that the real threat to the NHS comes from domestic legislation in the shape of the 2012 Health & Social Care Act. (For an example of this, here is a recent article in the Financial Times regarding US ‘investment’ in the NHS.)

Decisions, decisions.

It can be hard to tell fact from fiction in this debate, but there are some organisations who are trying to do just that.

38 Degrees have taken a neutral stance on the referendum, instead fact-checking what both sides of the argument are saying.  You can visit their facebook page here.

The RCN has a really detailed and balanced article on the relationship between nursing and the EU.  Read it here.

Another group worth checking out (although clearly not neutral) is Healthier In Europe. Run by and for health professionals who wish to remain in the EU, they outline a number of key issues relating to healthcare and Europe.

As a nurse, a woman, a mother, for me it’s a no brainer.  I’ll be voting to stay in. There is no doubt that I have benefited from the policies and directives introduced by the EU.  If we were to leave, I don’t feel there have been adequate reassurances and safeguards that these rights would be extended.

But whatever you do, don’t do nothing.  This is a huge decision which will impact on our working and family lives for years to come.  The worst thing any of us can do is sleepwalk into a future we didn’t play a part in shaping.

And because I rarely get an excuse to include The Clash in my blog, here’s some referendum inspiration.

©Jo Higman

Jacquie Hughes is a Nottingham based professional illustrator.  You can find more examples of her work on Instagram: jacquie_hughes, or email her at: jacquiehughes64@yahoo.co.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *