NHS Spanish nurses leaving the UK after Brexit

The NHS was one of the important issues during the EU referendum campaign after the referendum result, the UK had major implications for the health service. 

Across the country, the number of EU nationals registered as nurses and midwives decreased after the Brexit vote in 2016. The nursing staff has been the only occupational group to record a fall in the number of EU workers since the referendum. 

According to a Parliament report published last year, looking at individual nationalities, only Spanish nationals have seen a substantial record decrease since June 2016, from 7,240 to 6,160, this comes to a fall of 15%. Which means three Spanish out of 20, are leaving. 

But is BREXIT the reason they are leaving?  

There is no doubt that there is a staff shortage in the NHS. Nurses are leaving and roles are going unfilled.  

Virginia Rodríguez, a 39-year-old Spanish nurse from Cadiz, currently working at Eastbourne District Hospital, will leave the hospital this month. She has been working at the Medical Short Stay and Frailty Unit for three years.

“We started as a group of ten, all of us nurses from different parts of Spain. Now, there’s only two of us. There is no clarity what the future holds for us if we stay here”, Virginia says.

“It is true that there is a lack of staff due to people returning to their countries. There have been many times when our ward only has two nurses on a 12-hour night shift for 31 patients, so there is no doubt the NHS requires additional staff.

“I have not seen any changes in the way my patients treat me, but you know sometimes I have had patients that told me they want to be looked after by an English nurse. For me is fair enough because if I were them, I would also like to be taken care of, by someone from my country, yet unfortunately in some shifts, we are all foreigners.” 

Virginia Rodríguez

Virginia explained the main reason Spanish people are leaving the NHS is that since they are working here in the UK, they gain points to have more opportunities to work in Spain and with Brexit, they will not be getting any points. These points help them increase their chances to find a job in Spain, which in these days” is not easy”, she says. Brexit will mean their work here would not count in Spain.

According to the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, an integrated trust that provides different services from Eastbourne District General Hospital, Conquest Hospital in Hastings, Bexhill Hospital and Rye, to Winchelsea and District Memorial Hospital; from June 2016 to February 2019, 221 headcount staff with European nationality left the trust.  

An almost 10% of the EU staff in the Trust were Spanish. 

Over a six-month period, the number of NON-UK staff working at Eastbourne District General hospital decreased in a 7,38% and nursing and midwifery staff decreased by 8,74 %.

Created on Numbers by Natacha Andueza


Vikki Carruth, Director of Nursing for the East Sussex Health Care, said: “Healthcare has a very mobile workforce and the NHS generally has large numbers of staff from all over the world. It is widely known that the NHS would struggle without all of its dedicated and hardworking staff. The NHS needs to have the right staff with the right skills and values, regardless of where they are originally from.” 

Vikki joined the trust as Director of Nursing in 2017 and she is also qualified as a registered nurse.  

Eastbourne District General Hospital is made up of 169 different nationalities from the five continents. The European staff is the largest and will be the most affected by Brexit.   

Created on Numbers by Natacha Andueza


There are currently 40 nursing vacancies in the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust. Not only these vacancies are going unfilled but the ones that already were there are also not being filled. 

The East Sussex Health Care NHS Trust said that they will ensure they support the staff in post who are eligible for the EU settlement scheme. They have identified all staff by profession and area and the key areas that need recruitment are medical and nursing. They will focus their nursing recruitment in India.  

recent BBC article explains the NHS new overseas recruitment campaign. 

The aim is to replace the EU workers with different foreigners, instead of making the work available for British workers. EU migrants taking British jobs was also one of the reasons for the United Kingdom to leave the EU.  

It is a reality that EU care workers are leaving for diverse reasons and the government could not stop them to do so. The health system needs a constant flow of workers coming to Britain, and it’s the uncertainty that is turning them away.

Besides the fact that the health system needs them, the patients need them much more. Data has shown the NHS depends on foreign labour.  

Leave a Comment