File photo dated 3/10/2014 of a hospital ward. Fewer than one in 10 NHS nurses feel able to always provide safe levels of patient care, according to a survey. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday March 19, 2017. The poll of more than 3,000 nurses also found 81% thought levels of care were worse than five years ago. See PA story HEALTH Nurses. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Number of EU nationals who have left nursing jobs in Britain has risen 69% © PA

The number of EU nationals coming to work as nurses or midwives in Britain has fallen sharply over the past year, piling pressure on a health service that is already struggling to retain staff.

Just 1,107 EU nationals joined the profession in the 12 months to September, according to figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council. This was an 89 per cent drop from the preceding 12 months. The number of EU nationals who left nursing jobs in Britain also rose 69 per cent over the same period.

“These figures continue to highlight the major challenges faced by the UK’s health and care sectors around the recruitment and retention of staff,” NMC chief executive Jackie Smith said in a prepared statement.

The government argued that the decrease in overall numbers of nurses and midwives remained “minuscule” and said it had increased the numbers of nurses on wards.

Ms Smith did not blame Brexit specifically for the drop in EU nationals taking NHS jobs, and instead focused on the “very difficult circumstances” nurses and midwives have been working in.

35,363

Number of nurses and midwives who left the register between October 2016 and September 2017

The data come days after health secretary Jeremy Hunt called for extra money for the NHS, which has been buffeted by successive austerity drives, in chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget this month.

Pressure has increased on the government to raise spending on public services since the snap general election in June, when many voters rejected the Conservatives’ austerity policies in favour of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party’s tax-and-spend platform.

Overall, more nurses and midwives left the register — the NMC’s list of nurses and midwives working in the UK — than joined it in the year to September, the council said. This was a continuation of a trend the council also identified in July.

Between October 2016 and September 2017, 35,363 nurses and midwives left the register — up from 31,178 during the same period the previous year. Meanwhile, 27,786 joined. The number of British workers who left was 9 per cent higher than in the preceding year.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “These figures represent a mere 0.2 per cent decrease in the nurses and midwives currently registered with the NMC, and there are in fact more nurses on our wards since last year.” She added that 3,193 more EU nationals are working in the NHS than at the time of the referendum in June 2016.

Unite, the trade union, responded to the findings by calling for a pay rise to encourage staff to stay.

“The disturbing NMC findings are further evidence, if more were needed, that the NHS needs a massive cash injection, with a large tranche earmarked for a generous pay rise for staff,” Unite head of health Sarah Carpenter said.

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