Lib Dem claims about EU health workers and the NHS are generally true

20 November 2019
What was claimed

The number of nurses in the NHS has declined by 5,000 because of Brexit.

Our verdict

It is true that nursing and midwifery numbers have dropped by around 5,000 since the referendum, and Brexit is a likely factor driving at least some of this fall.

What was claimed

Tens of thousands of doctors and nurses in the NHS are from other EU countries.

Our verdict

That is correct. The number of reported other EU nationals working for the NHS in March 2019 was 65,000, of whom around 31,000 were doctors and nurses.

In last night’s ITV interviews with party leaders, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said that there were “tens of thousands” of doctors and nurses in the NHS from other EU countries. She added that this number has been declining because of Brexit, saying “we are 5000 nurses down.”

It is true that the NHS has tens of thousands of employees from the EU; around 65,000 employees, or 5.5% of the NHS workforce self-reported as EU nationals in March 2019

Of these, 31,000 were doctors and nurses.

It is also true that the number of nurses from the EU has decreased by around 5,000 since 2017, though the number of nurses and midwives in total is generally rising.  

The House Of Commons Library pointed out at the time of publication that nurse numbers do seem to have been particularly affected by the referendum, as noted by Ms Swinson, though of course other factors may be at play. 

Ms Swinson was also correct to say that there has been a big drop in people in the UK applying for nursing places since the government scrapped a bursary; applications dropped by 20% in 2017, the year following the announcement by then Chancellor George Osborne, and then again by 13% in 2018.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.