Brexit fallout: UK's NHS faces major shortage of nurses

The number of nurses from the EU registering to work in the UK has dropped by 96 per cent less than a year after the Brexit vote, official figures show.

Last July, 1,304 European Union nurses came to work in the UK; this fell to just 46 in April, Nursery and Midwifery Council (NMC) statistics show.

The Health Foundation, which obtained the figures via a freedom of information request, said there was a shortage of 30,000 nurses in England alone, adding that the NHS could not afford such a drop.

The foundation said the findings could not be starker, and said they should act as a "wake-up call".

But the NMC said the introduction of English language testing for EU nurses is also likely to have played a role.

Anita Charlesworth, the charity's director of research and economics, said, ''Without EU nurses it will be even harder for the NHS (National Health Service) 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.

''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.''

According to the Royal College of Nurses (RCN), there were 656,219 nurses on the NMC register at the end of March, of whom 5.5 per cent (36,615) were from the EU or European Economic Area (EEA).

It comes as the NHS is already struggling with nurse vacancies and, without this supply line, shortages could get worse.

The figures - obtained by the Health Foundation under the Freedom of Information Act - cover the numbers applying to go on the register so they do not necessarily mean they are employed by the NHS.

But they give an indication of the supply line from the EU, which provides a significant proportion of the workforce.

The NMC has also drawn attention to the introduction of English language tests, which were brought in for EU nurses for the first time in January 2016 - they were already in use for non-EU nurses.

It normally takes a few months from being tested to making it on to the register so officials believe this could have also played a role in the drop in numbers.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said EU nurses played a "valued" role in the NHS and they would be a priority in Brexit negotiations.

But shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the government was making a mess of things.

"Theresa May's weak and unstable government has pushed NHS services to the brink, and it is patients who will pay the price.

"Our health service has always relied on the contribution of overseas workers, yet these staff are being forced out by this government's neglect and disregard.  The Tories are overseeing an unforgivable drain of talent out of our country, because of their chaotic attitude to the Brexit negotiations."

And Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb added, "These figures are profoundly worrying and the possible implications for the NHS and patients cannot be underestimated."