Only 46 nurses from the EU registered to work in the UK in April, a 96% drop since last July, according to new figures published today by the Health Foundation.
Last July, 1,304 nurses applied, but the number dropped to just 344 two months later in September, figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the Nursing and Midwifery Council show.
“The decline in applicants is extremely concerning,” said UNISON head of health Sara Gorton. “We have a recruitment and retention crisis in the NHS and patient care is suffering.
“Training new staff, attracting former NHS workers back to the service, and recruiting from overseas are the only three ways we can bring new people in. And the Conservative Party – whether deliberately or not – has damaged all three.”
The Conservative government scrapped the NHS bursary, leaving nursing students with a debt more than £50,000 and, in February this year, universities saw a dramatic fall in the number of applications for nursing and healthcare courses – a reduction of over 20%.
Ms Gorton continued: “If you want to ensure that the staff you do have stay – or [you can] even attract former staff back – you have to reward them fairly. We are now in our seventh year of the public sector pay cap, with NHS staff pay being cut, year-on-year, by inflation.
“And as we can see from today’s figures, fear and uncertainty has been deterring many nurses who might otherwise have come to the UK from across Europe to work in our hospitals.
“Unless the government does more to raise NHS pay, reassure EU workers already here and encourage potential recruits from across the EU, the staffing crisis in health and social care is set to get a great deal worse.”