A COMBINATION of Brexit and worsening work conditions have prompted more and more Spanish nursing staff to up sticks and leave the United Kingdom. In many cases these workers are returning home to even worse job conditions but, they claim, they enjoy a better quality of life.
Speaking to Spanish daily ABC, a number of healthcare employees complained about the difficulties of living in a country that is no longer a part of the European Union without having British nationality, as well as the long-term effect this is having on their careers.
“Nurses migrating to the UK have decreased considerably in recent years, mainly due to the UK’s exit from the EU,” Diego Ayuso, secretary general of the General Council of Nursing, told ABC.
This, he explained, was due to the fact that time spent working in the NHS no longer carries the same weight as working in other EU countries when it comes to job-seeking elsewhere.
“For employment exchanges and the merit scale, this is very important for nurses and is a key factor in making [the UK] less attractive than going to work in Norway, Sweden, France or Italy, countries where Spanish nurses continue to migrate,” he added.
Worsening work conditions in the NHS, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, have also taken their toll. And there are more mundane issues too.
“It sounds ridiculous, but the mere fact that you can no longer bring food from here over there,” complained Diamar Martin-Rubio, in reference to post-Brexit restrictions on what foodstuffs passengers can carry into the UK. “Everything is more complicated.”
For Ana Belen Beteta Crespo, a 32-year-old nurse, the pandemic brought matters into sharp focus. The arrival of Covid-19 made her realise that she wanted to be closer to her family, and saw her return to Spain to work in the Hospital de Algeciras.
“What I have here makes up for it on a personal level and in terms of quality of life,” she told ABC. “Life is good here and we are close to our family, which is also quality of life.”
The official statistics back the anecdotal evidence of an exodus of Spanish staff from the UK’s healthcare system.
At the end of 2016, there were 7,310 Spaniards working in the NHS, according to figures cited by ABC. But by June of this year, the last month for which there is official data, there were just 5,144.
When it comes to nursing staff alone, the figures are even more stark. Of the 4,675 employed in the system in 2016, there are now just 1,467.
“The only ones of us who are left are either completely lost or those who have a boyfriend or girlfriend here!” said Miguel Jorquera, who has been working in the UK for six-and-a-half years as a nursing assistant.