European Union (EU) nurses are leaving the NHS en masse, according to figures revealed by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
In a request made under the Freedom of Information Act the RCN discovered 2,700 EU nurses already working in the UK left the NMC register in 2016.
A separate request by the College showed fewer than 200 EU nurses per month were joining the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) following the result of the EU referendum in June 2016.
By comparison, figures from the same period of 2015 showed almost 800 nurses joining per month.
The data showed only 96 nurses joined the NHS from other European countries in December 2016 – dropping from 1,304 in July, the month after the referendum.
RCN chief executive Janet Davies 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 number of EU nurses available to the NHS actually trebled between 2011 and 2016, prior to a victory for the Leave camp in the referendum.
NHS hospitals and community services have increasingly relied on international recruitment due to a shortage of British nurses.
It is expected that one in three nurses will retire in the next 10 years, while 24,000 nursing posts are currently unfilled in England.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘While the supply of nurses is broadly stable and some of the changes described owe to the introduction of more rigorous language testing, the Secretary of State has repeatedly said that overseas workers form a crucial part of our NHS and that we value their contribution immensely.
‘We continue to invest in the frontline with 13,400 more nurses on our wards since May 2010 and over 52,000 nurses in training.’
In a bid to plug shortages, the RCN has also appealed for non-EU healthcare staff in both the NHS and other providers to be made exempt from a £1,000 yearly visa charge in place for all non-EU workers in the UK.