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96% drop in EU nurses joining the NHS since referendum vote

3 min read

Applications from EU nurses to practise in England have fallen massively since last year’s referendum, new figures have revealed.

Only 46 nurses from EU nations registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council in April of this year, down from a high of 1,304 in July last year, immediately after the UK voted to leave the bloc.

Data obtained by the Health Foundation and published by Health Service Journal showed an immediate post-referendum slump, with only 344 applications in September 2016 – a 73% decline in numbers.

Today’s figures will feed into the debate about the form of Brexit the Government tries to pursue in the wake of last week’s shock general election result.

Although the overall number of nurses in the health service has risen slightly in the last year, the sharp fall in European staff will be a concern amid rising demand for NHS services.

Overall there are around 57,000 EU nationals working in the NHS, of whom 20,000 are nurses.

The fall in European staff may have been offset by immigrants from other parts of the world, as nursing was placed on the Shortage Occupation List in 2015 following concerns about staff levels.

Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said the NHS must be a priority in the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

"The Tories are overseeing an unforgivable drain of talent out of our country because of their chaotic attitude to the Brexit negotiations. The truth is that Theresa May has tried to use NHS staff as bargaining chips in her negotiations with Brussels," he said in a statement.

"The NHS should be a priority in the Brexit negotiations and the Government should immediately guarantee the rights of EU staff who are working here in our health and care service."

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Norman Lamb said the election result gives the Government the chance to alter their position on EU migrants, by unilaterally guaranteeing their right to remain after Brexit.

“These figures are profoundly worrying and the possible implications for the NHS and patients cannot be underestimated," he said.

“The government has to face up to the impact their refusal to guarantee EU citizens to remain in the UK after Brexit is having.

“It is a political choice they have made and it is going to harm our services, in particular the NHS.

Anita Charlesworth, the director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said there needed to be a response from politicians and NHS managers.

However she was clear that the EU referendum vote was not the main reason for staff shortages.

‘The findings should be a wake-up call to politicians and health service leaders. Clearly action is needed to offset any further loss of EU nursing staff in the near future,” she said.

“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,’ Charlesworth said.

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