If the NHS is to make another 70 years the government needs to show migrants like me we are welcome

Joan at the start of his nursing career (Picture: Joan Pons Laplana)

Today the NHS is 70 – it’s a day for celebrating this fantastic institution.

But the NHS would not have been possible without the contribution of migrants. Migrants have played a vital role in the construction of the NHS since its creation. Recently, a lot of Indian, Filipino and European doctors and nurses have come to the UK. The NHS is now one of the most multicultural organisations in the world with over 200 nationalities working alongside each other. It’s this diversity that helps to make the NHS one of the best health systems in the world.

I am one of those migrants. I came to the UK in 2000 to pursue my dream of becoming a nurse. I landed in Luton on bonfire night with just £50 in my pocket and a suitcase full of hope. I have worked hard for the NHS ever since. In these 18 years, I fell in love here, I married here, I bought my first house here, I had my children here and I fulfilled my dream of being a nurse here. The UK is my home. I always felt it was home.

I fell in love here, I married here, I bought a house – the UK is my home (Picture: Joan Pons Laplana)

I’d never had any problems but everything changed on 23rd June 2016. The UK voted by a slim majority to leave the EU. Things did not happen overnight; instead, little by little, I have seen attitudes towards migrants change. Tensions had been building up slowly, but Brexit was like the cork being pulled out of the champagne bottle. And all of a sudden people felt like they could express their anger. People started telling me and my fellow EU colleagues: ‘Go back to your country’, and ‘You took our jobs’. I have witnessed other EU citizens being intimidated on trains, and fellow passengers do nothing to stop it. Since Brexit, I am more aware of my accent.

I feel betrayed; I felt that the 17 years of love were finished. I do not recognise my country anymore. I grew up in Spain admiring British culture – its openness, its fashion. My favourite programmes were The Young Ones and Blackadder. I grew up listening to UB40, David Bowie, Blur, Oasis, Radio Head. And when the opportunity to come to this country arrived I did not hesitate.

Like me, over 3million EU citizens have made this country home. But after years of living in harmony I feel betrayed by my Government for using migrants as a bargaining chip during the Brexit negotiations. After nearly two decades, I no longer feel welcome or valued.

The NHS suffered from staff shortages and tight budgets long before Brexit, but since the Brexit referendum almost 10,000 nurses have quit.

The Conservative Government’s austerity measures mean that British nurses don’t want to fill these roles either. Nursing is a tough gig and not for the faint of heart; people go into it because they genuinely care, but when your salary is frozen for seven years (not even keeping up with inflation) and you struggle to provide a good quality of life for your family, even the most altruistic individual might consider a career change.

Nursing is a tough gig and not for the faint of heart (Picture: Joan Pons Laplana)

Brexit, topped by the hostile environment created by the Government, has meant both an immediate and a longer-term loss of EU medical professionals. The first wave leaving are the doctors and nurses who haven’t been residing in the UK that long: they can up sticks and move on to greener pastures easily. Those who have been here longer, like me, and are more established – we are not leaving yet, but we are drawing up exit plans for the near future, when their kids are grown.

The 35,000 nursing vacancies that are causing problems now are just the beginning. The future of the NHS is under threat but what worries me more is that the chronic staff shortage means it is getting more and more difficult to provide a minimal standard of care.

If we want the NHS to continue for another 70 years, the Government needs to send a signal that migrants are welcome and vital for the economy of our country. It also needs to produce a staffing strategy immediately. Unless we close the gap between increasing demand and funding, another Mid-Staffordshire scandal will happen very soon. Unless the Government acts now, the NHS will not survive another winter.

What is worse is that maybe you or a member of your family will die because staff can no longer provide the safe care that you deserve.

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