As a nation we have voted to leave the European Union. Were you surprised? A Nursing in Practice event in Bristol on the morning of the referendum indicated a third of delegates were voting to remain in, while a third would vote to leave but a whopping third were still undecided.
We have experienced history in the making and, not surprisingly, the political world appears to be in turmoil. The Prime Minister has announced his departure; the Labour Party is divided with a minister sacked and numerous others resigning, including the shadow health secretary; the financial markets are reeling; the younger electorate are blaming the old; and Scotland is trapped having voted in, but, by being in the UK, is out.
There is palpable blame, unrest and uncertainty in the country, our communities and even within families. It is fuelled by the ominous predictions of tax rises, risks of job losses and threats of financial doom.
For nurses, this uncertainty weighs heavy on a demoralised workforce. The profession was already unsteadied by a series of austerity measures from central Government that have a significant impact on nursing and our ability to serve the public. Relentlessly, in the last year, the Government has removed nursing bursaries, cut social care budgets that impacted on hospital discharges and community care packages, reduced Public Health England funding which cut health visiting posts, scrapped the Department of Health nursing advice team, halved the Health Education England continuing professional development budget – and have indicated that post-registration nurse specialist training funds such as district, practice and school nurses are under review. It is beginning to feel like nursing is bearing the brunt of the saving measures this Government has put in place.
Whatever the short-term measures our national leaders must introduce to steady the public concerns, it is ‘business as usual’ for healthcare: health needs are not determined by governments, but by the people. The population still needs nurses to care for the sick, comfort the frightened, educate the needy, soothe the confused and support those who neglect themselves. Carers need our guidance, signposting and reassurance more than ever. Students and learners still need our attention and investment, and for us to be role models for futures that are likely to be longer than ours.
Prior to the referendum, healthcare already faced a crisis of direction, leadership, staffing, funding and public confidence. Regretfully, I suspect the pressing but uncharted journey of our EU exit is likely to put rectifying healthcare strategies on hold for some time. I implore our political leaders to urgently put some positive measures into place to reassure the 57,000 EU nurses and doctors they are still welcome – and to secure for the NHS some of the £350 million weekly that an EU exit promised to release into the UK economy. These are needed now. Two years is too long to wait.