UK bids adios to Spanish nurses ‘betrayed’ by Brexit

Keeping a watchful eye over one patient for a 12-hour shift at the hospital where he learned his trade, Manuel Gala says Brexit has forced many Spanish health workers to consider their future in Britain.

UK bids adios to Spanish nurses 'betrayed' by Brexit
Joan Pons Laplana, a 43-year-old nurse, speaking at a rally in March 2017. Photo: AFP

“A critical patient is never left alone here, at any time, so obviously a lot of staff are needed,” explained the 33-year-old Mallorcan, who has been working in Oxford's university hospitals for six years.

A short corridor separates his unit from the emergency room at John Radcliffe Hospital, a modern seven-storey structure some 2 miles (3 kilometres) from the Gothic buildings that house the city's centuries-old 
university colleges.   

In less than five minutes, the victim of an accident can move from an ambulance, to A&E, to one of the intensive care beds.   

Gala and his team of nurses — which includes Australians, Filipinos, Indians, Italians, Poles and Portuguese, as well as Britons — then keep them under constant observation.

The international team reflects Britain's drive to recruit foreign workers over the last two decades due to a shortage of native staff.   

Around 63,000 (5.6 percent) of the 1.2 million people employed by Britain's public health service come from the European Union, according to data from the National Health Service (NHS).

Spain represents the second highest number of NHS nurses from the EU behind Ireland, but many workers have decided to leave Britain after it decided in a 2016 referendum to leave the bloc.   

NHS Spanish staff has decreased from 7,240 to 6,160 — a fall of 15 percent — since June 2016, the only EU nationality that has recorded a fall, according to a parliamentary report published this month.

Spaniards can currently accrue points from their work in Britain that can later be used on Spain's public health job exchange.   

But “we fear that after Brexit this will not continue and that has caused many people to stop coming and others have decided to leave,” said Gala.

'You feel you don't belong'

Lara Garrido, a 34-year-old dentist who left Spain in 2010 due to job insecurity, has already gone home.

“It took me exactly two days to find a job as a dental nurse (…) and in three months I started working as a dentist,” she recalled of her time in Britain.

She earned the respect of her patients and colleagues during her three years working in a small town in Essex, southeast England, but was then rocked by the Brexit vote.

“I was happy and aware that in Spain it would be very difficult to find a similar job. And then came Brexit,” she said.   

“My whole clinic voted out.   

“It's very hard for your own patients to tell you about Brexit in a way that doesn't make you feel you don't belong, that you're always going to be a foreigner,” Garrido said.

She and her husband returned to Spain in February, after having their first baby, worried about the political uncertainty.

'You called me!'

Others, however, have put down deeper roots.   

“I have three English children, my ex is English and my current partner too,” said Joan Pons Laplana, a 43-year-old nurse.   

“All my life is here and now they tell me 'go home', but this is my home.”   

He arrived following the first wave of recruitment campaigns 18 years ago and now claims to feel “betrayed”.

“You called me!” he said.   

Pons Laplana recently received a job offer in Australia offering double the salary, but his family do not want to move.   

The Basque autonomous government is one of many bodies trying to capitalise on the disillusionment, launching the Bizkaia Talent programme in London this month, which offers 15 percent tax reduction for five years as one of its inducements to come home. 

“With Basques and EU nationals increasingly considering relocation, we're hoping to tap into their interest and draw their skills to the Basque region,” said managing director Ivan Jimenez.

An exodus could be catastrophic for Britain's NHS, warned Siva Anandaciva, an analyst at the King's Fund health charity in London.   

“At the moment you already don't have enough nurses and doctors to meet the demand that is coming through the door, and demand is just continuing to increase,” he said.

“This is only making it harder and harder to deliver high quality care, just at a time when we need more.”

By AFP's Anna Cuenca 


Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.