EU nurses registering to work in UK drops by 96% since Brexit vote

Data collected by a key health think tank has found that there has been a 96% drop in nurses from EU countries registering to work in the UK since July last year.

The information obtained by the Health Foundation from a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the Nursing and Midwifery Council could spell bad news for the NHS as a large proportion of the workforce, including nurses, is heavily reliant on EU workers.

It will also deepen fears about recruitment into the nursing profession, as  last month the Health Foundation also warned that there could be a shortfall of 42,000 nurses joining the NHS by 2020.

Figures show that after 1,304 EU nurses registered to work in July last year – a month after the Brexit vote took place – numbers fell to 344 in September, and in April this year only 46 EU nurses signed on to come to the UK.

The Foundation also stated that since 2008, the majority of international nurses registering in the UK have come from the EU, and that the fall in registrants means that the NHS requires a new, sustainable approach to workforce planning to avoid patient care being effected.

“The recruitment and retention of nurses is one of the biggest challenges facing health and social care, with a shortage of 30,000 nurses in England alone,” said Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation.

“The drop in EU nurses registering to work in the UK could not be starker – just 46 registered to work in the UK in April,” she explained. “Without EU nurses, it will be even harder for the NHS 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.”

Charlesworth called on the government to take clear action to stop any further loss of EU nursing staff in the future. 

“But the overall shortage of 30,000 nurses is not a shortage caused by the Brexit vote,” she added. “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.”

The report also follows the Royal College of Nursing warning that the number of nurses registering to work in the UK fell by a quarter immediately after the referendum vote.

And RCN chief executive and general secretary, Janet Davies said: “We rely on the contributions of EU staff and this drop in numbers could have severe consequences for patients and their families.

“Our nursing workforce is in a state of crisis, with more than 40,000 vacancies in England alone. Across our health service, from A&E to elderly care, this puts patients at serious risk," she said. 

“These figures should act as a wake-up call to the government as they enter Brexit negotiations. EU staff should be left in no doubt that their contributions are welcome and valued.”

However, a DH spokesperson told NHE that some of the changes in numbers described owe to the introduction of more rigorous language testing, and that the GMC had witnessed a similar reduction in EU doctors applying to practice in the UK when they introduced language testing in 2014.

According to the spokesperson, this would mean that it is inaccurate to attribute this drop in numbers solely to the results of the referendum.

"We understand the need to give valued NHS staff from the EU certainty – which is exactly why we have made clear that the future of those EU nationals working in our health and care system should be a priority in Brexit negotiations," the spokesperson added.

“We also have over 52,000 nurses in training to ensure the NHS has the nurses it needs.”

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