The number of EU nurses applying to work in the UK has dropped by 96 percent since the Brexit vote, adding to already chronic understaffing levels in the NHS.
Figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) regulator, released after a Freedom of Information request from the Health Foundation charity, show just 46 EU nurses applied to work in the UK in April.
In July 2016, one month after the referendum, 1,304 EU nurses applied to work in Britain, falling to 344 two months later.
EU nurses have made up the majority of foreign nurses working in the UK during the last 10 years, however, despite recruitment drives abroad there are still 30,000 vacant nursing positions in England alone.
Health Foundation director of research and economics, Anita Charlesworth, said, “The drop in EU nurses registering to work in the UK could not be more stark – just 46 registered to work in the UK in April.
“Without EU nurses it will be even harder for the NHS and other employers to find the staff they need to provide safe patient care. The findings should be a wake-up call to politicians and health service leaders.”
Charlesworth added that the overall shortfall of 30,000 nurses was the fault of poor planning and training cuts by the government.
She said, “Clearly action is needed to offset any further loss of EU nursing staff in the near future.
“But the overall shortage of 30,000 nurses is not a shortage caused by the Brexit vote. The chronic shortage of nurses is the result of years of short-term planning and cuts to training places.
A sustainable, long-term approach to workforce planning is desperately needed.”
Unite national officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, said the scrapping of nursing bursaries by the Conservatives has contributed to the nursing shortfall and called on the government to reinstate them.
Since early 2016, when prospective trainee nurses could no longer apply for bursaries, applications for nursing courses dropped by 9,990 to 33,810 in 12 months.
Jarrett-Thorpe also slammed Theresa May’s use of EU citizens as bargaining chips for the up-coming Brexit negotiations. The Prime Minister is refusing to grant EU citizens residing in Britain full rights before the negotiations start, creating much uncertainty.
That uncertainty has coincided with the number of EU nurses applying to work in the UK plummeting, as well as with an increase in the number of EU nurses already living in Britain leaving the health service.
A freedom of information request to 80 of the 136 NHS acute trusts in England by the Liberal Democrats showed that 2,700 EU nurses left the NHS in 2016, compared to 1,600 in 2014 – an increase of 68 percent.
Jarrett-Thorpe said, “The health service is already chronically understaffed. Not only is the government’s refusal to guarantee the rights of EU citizens residing in the UK morally wrong, it is causing valuable EU nurses working in the NHS to reconsider their positions at a time when they are desperately needed.
“Through its belligerent hard Brexit stance and its use of EU citizens as political tools this government has also severely restricted the number European nurses coming in work in Britain. As a matter or urgency Theresa May must make it clear to EU nurses and other EU healthcare professionals that they are wanted and needed in the NHS.”