The rate at which nurses from the EU are coming to the UK to work has dropped significantly since last June’s referendum and continued to slow until the end of 2016, official data reveals.
Figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council show the number of EU nurses being admitted on to its register fell from 1,304 in July to 761 in August. Only 100 joined in December, according to the figures seen by HSJ’s sister title Nursing Times following a freedom of information request.
The number of EU nurses leaving the register every month increased slightly, from 257 leaving in July to 318 in December.
The combined effect has meant the total number of EU nurses registered with the NMC shrank towards the end of 2016, from 38,992 in September to 38,661 by December.
In the six years prior to 2016 there were annual increases in the number of EU nurses on the NMC’s register, of between 15 per cent and 28 per cent.
The regulator said the drop could be due to the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the introduction of new language testing rules over summer 2016, or a combination of both.
In January 2016, regulations were introduced that meant the NMC could begin testing for English language skills. The new system came fully into effect by July, at which point all applications under the old system had been processed.
While EU nurses only make up 5 per cent of the total amount of nurses registered to work in the UK, NMC chief executive Jackie Smith said the decreasing numbers were an “early warning sign” of potential workforce supply problems.
She said: “This is the first time in years that we have seen a drop-off [in EU nurses on the register].
“English language testing is a factor… but then we’ve also got possibly Brexit as a factor.”
The NMC was now testing 80 per cent of all applicants from the EU on their English language skills, Ms Smith said.
She said it was unclear whether the drop in EU nurses on the register was a result of fewer people applying because they were deterred by the new rules, or because a “significant number” of those tested did not pass first time.
She highlighted that the NMC had previously told employers they must support people with their applications.
Ms Smith said the regulator had a responsibility to notify the government and other bodies of potential workforce supply problems, which it would continue to do.
“We made a commitment to [health] minister Philip Dunne that we would provide data, and I have also provided this information to the chief nursing officer for England, NHS Improvement and Health Education England,” said Ms Smith.
She said employers would also be notified, but the NMC had not heard from organisations about any concerns so far.
“NHS employers are concerned about the possible effect of Brexit and what that would do to their supply, but they haven’t come to us and said the pool has dried up in Spain or Italy,” she said.
“What we are saying is this is an early warning sign and everyone needs to be alert to it.”
Ms Smith said the drop down to just 100 EU nurses joining the register in December was “significant” and the regulator would continue to monitor the numbers.
Data was supplied to Nursing Times by the NMC in response to Freedom of Information request by James Meikle