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Sharp drop in EU nurses a 'wake-up call' for government's Brexit talks

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The number of EU nurses joining has dropped 96% The number of EU nurses joining has dropped 96%

Nursing organisations are ‘greatly worried’ by a sharp drop in the number of EU nurses recruited to the NHS since the Brexit vote.

Following a Freedom of Information request by the Health Foundation, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) revealed that 1,304 nurses joined their register in July 2016, compared to only 46 in April this year – signifying a fall of 96% over nine months.

While the NMC pointed to the introduction of English language controls as one factor in the statistical change, several nursing groups have blamed the vote to leave the European Union, which was cast at the end of June 2016.

READ MORE: Report predicts shortfall of 42,000 nurses by 2020

Chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Janet Davies said: ‘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.

‘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.’

Negotiations between the UK and the EU are scheduled to begin on Monday, 19 June, and the government has refused to confirm the rights of EU nationals to stay in the UK after Brexit, causing uncertainty for nurses from these countries.

READ MORE: 'We cannot afford to lose them': Government called to keep on EU nurses

Employment gaps in the NHS have often been filled by turning to international nurses. The trends exposed have led the Health Foundation to call for a ‘more sustainable long-term approach to workforce planning’.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) also pointed to the fact England is currently 3,500 midwives short of the numbers it needs as cause for concern if trends continue downwards.

RCM director for policy, employment relations and communications Jon Skewes said: ‘This is a staggering drop and one that worries the RCM greatly. We said before the referendum that we feared it would put off potential midwives coming to the UK and this is proving to be the case.

READ MORE: NHS hit by mass exodus with EU nurses in wake of Brexit

‘This outlines why it is so critical that the government invests in maternity services and in midwives for the NHS. We have had this critical midwife shortage for over a generation and this government’s failure too invest in the NHS is doing a great disservice to mothers, babies and their families, and to the dedicated midwives in our NHS who have to work in a system where demand is far outstripping the resources available.’

There are currently 650,000 nurses on the register. Just over 36,000 were trained in the EU, 5.5% of the total. Another 67,000 come from outside the EU and the rest are from the UK.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health said EU nurses would be a ‘priority’ in Brexit negotiations.

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