The number of EU nurses registering in England has fallen by 92 percent since the Brexit referendum, while record numbers are leaving the NHS, new figures show.
The shocking statistics have been blamed on the government’s refusal to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.
Just 96 EU nurses began working in the NHS in December 2016. In July 2016, one month after the referendum, 1,400 EU nurses joined the NHS.
A freedom of information request to 80 of the 136 NHS acute trusts in England by the Liberal Democrats also showed that 2,700 EU nurses left the NHS in 2016, compared to 1,600 in 2014 – an increase of 68 percent.
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief executive and president, Janet Davies, said: “The government risks turning off the supply of qualified nurses from around the world at the very moment the health service is in a staffing crisis like never before.
“As she pulls the trigger to begin negotiations, the prime minister must tell EU nurses and those in other occupations that they are needed and welcome in the NHS. Sadly, it is no surprise that EU staff are leaving – they have been offered no security or reassurance that they will be able to keep their jobs. Few are able to live with such uncertainty.
“The government has failed to train enough British nurses and cannot afford to lose the international workforce on which the NHS so heavily relies.”
Around 57,000 EU nationals work in the NHS, including an estimated 10,000 doctors and 20,000 nurses.
Senior nurse, Joan Pons Laplana, from Spain, told the Observer that the morale of foreign nurses has collapsed because May is refusing to provide guarantees for European nationals in Britain until the EU does the same for British subjects on the continent.
Laplana, who has lived in the UK for 17 years and works at Great Yarmouth’s James Paget Hospital, said: “Since Brexit, I feel like a second-class citizen. My son asked me if I was going to be forced back to Spain and my daughter doesn’t want to visit her grandparents because she fears I will not be able to come back.
“The UK is no longer the first choice for EU nurses. The uncertain future means many they are starting to leave. We are people with feelings, not a commodity at the Brexit table.”
The fall in European nurses is heaping pressure onto the crisis hit NHS, which is already struggling to recruit staff. Since the bursary for trainee nurses was scrapped in early 2016, applications for nursing courses dropped by 9,990 to 33,810 in 12 months, figures released by UCAS in February show. A third of nurses are due to retire in the next decade, while 24,000 nursing roles remain open, according to the RCN.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “While the stock of nurses is broadly stable, some of the changes described are owing to the introduction of more rigorous language testing. The secretary of state has repeatedly said that overseas workers form a crucial part of our NHS and that we value their contribution immensely.”