There has been a “huge” 40% drop in European Union nurses coming to work in London’s NHS since the year of the referendum result, according to analysis by the Royal College of Nursing.
Between July 2016 and July 2018, the number of joiners from Europe reduced from 1,622 to 939, representing a fall in EU nurses of 42%.
“Without EU nursing staff, the health service would be unable to provide safe and effective care”
The RCN figures also reveal a 14% increase in those choosing to leave the capital between July 2016 and July this year.
More EU nurses are now leaving than joining the capital’s health service providers for the first time, according to the college.
It claimed the government’s failure to immediately guarantee the rights of EU nationals has proved to be a “dangerous act of self-harm”.
The analysis comes after the government published its immigration white paper this week setting out rules for migrants coming to the UK post Brexit.
The RCN raised immediate concerns about the effect that the proposed salary threshold of £30,000 could have on recruiting international nurses.
The RCN noted that London’s NHS had the worst vacancy rate in England and was reliant on twice as many nurses from Europe as the rest of the country.
According to latest figures from NHS Improvement, London’s nursing vacancy rate is currently 14.6%, equating to 9,649 unfilled posts.
Meanwhile, EU nationals make up 13-14% of London’s nursing workforce, compared with 6.8% across England. Overall, there are currently 7,364 EU nurses working in London’s NHS out of a total of 55,640.
As a result, the RCN in London warned that the reduction in EU nurses joining and increase in those leaving will “cause serious problems for the safe staffing of services”.
It highlighted that it had been calling on the government to clarify the rights of EU nationals immediately after the referendum. However, it said the government only officially announced the new settled status scheme two years later.
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As previously reported by Nursing Times, some NHS trusts in London and other parts of the country have already pledged to cover the cost for nurses applying to the EU Settlement Scheme in a bid to encourage them to stay on.
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RCN London’s new analysis, based on official NHS data, also shows that between 2010 and 2018 the only time the number of EU nationals leaving outstripped those joining was in the two years immediately after the referendum result.
As well as the lack of clarity in the two years after the referendum, RCN London are also warning that doubling of the Immigration Health Surcharge could have a similar effect on the ability to recruit and retain nursing staff from outside Europe.
RCN London regional director Jude Diggins, said: “These figures confirm what our members have been telling us – that the government’s failure to immediately clarify their right to stay left them feeling anxious and concerned for their future.
“With the government’s official announcement on the settled status scheme not coming until a whole two years after the referendum result many have felt little choice but to vote with their feet – this was all completely avoidable,” she said.
“Without EU nursing staff, the health service would be unable to provide safe and effective care,” said Ms Diggins.
She added: “Sadly, chaotic Brexit negotiations and the failure on the government’s part to make European citizens feel welcome have put more pressure on London’s already challenged nursing workforce.
“The government and NHS England must not only ensure that the health service remains open to nursing talent from across the world but that the failure to produce enough home-grown nurses is tackled head on, that must start with putting at least £1bn back into nurse education,” she said.