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Brexit woes deepen as RCN shows fall in number of EU nurses coming to UK after vote

The number of EU nurses joining the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register to work in the UK fell by a quarter immediately after the referendum vote was announced last year, a Freedom of Information investigation conducted by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has revealed.

As the UK prepares for Theresa May to trigger Article 50 today – formally kick-starting the two-year process of leaving the EU – the RCN has found that in June last year, the number of European nurses signing on to the register fell to fewer than 200 per month, compared to nearly 800 a month for the same period the year before.

Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “EU nationals working in the NHS need a clear signal from Theresa May that they are wanted and welcome to stay. Her failure to guarantee their right to remain is leaving soaring numbers heading for the door. Few are able to live with such uncertainty.

“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.”

The news will reinforce the message sent by unions of the detrimental damage Brexit could have on the health service’s already dwindling workforce, and the importance of assuring EU workers that they would be secure in the UK even after Brexit.

Up to now, May has failed to clarify whether Brexit will lead to NHS workers from Europe being forced to leave – something that would come as another hit to a workforce that is already struggling to retain staff and recruit enough nurses and doctors to cope with increasing demand.

In February, the British Medical Association (BMA) conducted a survey of EU doctors and found that almost half stated they were considering leaving the EU due to Brexit. Over 50% also said that they didn’t think the government did enough for international doctors.

A BMA statement from its chair, Dr Mark Porter, also warned that uncertainty looming over the NHS from Brexit was creating an overseas workforce that was increasingly “frightened and anxious” over their work status in the UK.

The two unions also sent a joint letter to home secretary Amber Rudd earlier in March calling for an immigration charge that would be levelled at employers taking on staff from the EU to be dropped to ensure employers would continue taking on European staff.

This development also follows the EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier calling on May to protect the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, and also to consider the welfare of British nationals living in the EU.

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