More evidence has emerged that NHS hospitals saw a sharp fall in the supply of new overseas nurses in the months after the UK voted to leave the European Union.
Figures highlighted by the Royal College of Nursing show the number of new nurses from around Europe dropped to a quarter of its previous level.
“They cannot afford to lose the international workers the NHS relies on”
By late 2016, the number joining the official Nursing and Midwifery Council register to practise in the UK fell to less than two hundred per month.
Figures show an average of 194 nurses registered each month in the September to December period – compared to 797 per month in the same period in 2015.
Prime minister Theresa May is due to trigger Article 50 on Wednesday, starting the UK’s official process of leaving the EU.
The new data adds to that reported by Nursing Times in January, which showed the number of EU nurses admitted onto the NMC register dropped by almost half, from 1,304 in July to only 100 in December.
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The regulator said at the time that this year’s drop off could be due to the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the introduction of new language testing rules over summer 2016, or a combination of both.
In addition to the NCM figures, a separate Freedom of Information request by the RCN revealed that 2,700 EU nurses already working in the UK left the register in the year of the referendum.
One in every 15 nurses and midwives working in the NHS in England is from another EU country, noted the college, which is hoping to put pressure on the government for job guarantees for existing NHS nurses from the EU.
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It estimated that around 24,000 nursing jobs were unfilled in England and that one in three nurses would retire in the next 10 years.
It highlighted that NHS services had increasingly relied on international recruitment due to a shortage of British nurses and the number of EU nurses available trebled between 2011 and 2016.
Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “If they fail to train the next generation of British nurses, the government must keep attracting the best from around Europe.
“On Wednesday, EU nationals working in the NHS need a clear signal from Theresa May that they are wanted and welcome to stay,” she said. “Her failure to guarantee their right to remain is leaving soaring numbers heading for the door.
“The government is 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. They cannot afford to lose the international workers the NHS relies on,” she said.
The RCN and other unions are understood to be poised to launch a campaign to make it clear overseas nurses are welcome and highly valued by the NHS, as exclusively revealed by Nursing Times earlier this month.