An EU nurse has said Britain is making him and others feel unwelcome, after a 96% drop in the number of EU nurses coming to work in the UK since the Brexit vote.
Latest figures released show there has been a dramatic drop from a high of 1,304 in July last year to 344 two months later in September.
Numbers have continued to fall, with just 46 nurses from EU countries registering in April this year, leading to fears that lives will be put at “serious risk”.
EU citizens make up 6.9% of the overall nursing staff in the UK, with 22,081 working in the NHS as of December 2016.
The Royal College of Nursing has warned that the workforce is in a state of “crisis”, with more than 40,000 vacancies in England alone.
Joan Pons Laplana is a nurse who has worked in the NHS since moving to the UK from Spain 17 years ago.
He told HuffPost UK that the British government “is sending out the message that EU nationals are not welcome”.
“It’s a feeling we all have, like we are being labelled as second class citizens,” he said.
“We are not British and the government makes us feel that we aren’t good enough and that they just want British nurses.”
“But I came here 17 years ago. I pay all my taxes, I have three children who are British and I have a British wife.
“Why are you suddenly telling me that I’m not good enough, that you don’t value me because I have a different accent?”
Laplana, 42, said that some of his colleagues who have lived here for years are waiting for the school term to finish “and they are going to pack up and go”.
He added: “Racism has increased and yet there is a lack of condemnation by the government, which has made people very wary to come to this country.
“When you’re a foreigner, one of the things you look for is somewhere you can settle, somewhere you can feel welcome. You also want to be valued and know that you can build your life there [in a new country], but England is sending the wrong message. It’s saying ‘don’t come here’.
“The hardest thing you will do in your life is to leave your family and country behind. And even if people do come here, they may have to leave in one or two years’ time.
“That’s not something people are prepared to do and for that reason people are choosing other countries.”
Laplana said that nurses “can no longer guarantee that we can deliver safe care”, adding: “People are getting tired and tired people are making mistakes.”
He added: “How bad does it need to get before somebody does something about it?”
How bad does it need to get before somebody does something about it? Joan Pons Laplana, NHS nurse from Spain
The figures were obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), submitted by the Health Foundation.
Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “We rely on the contributions of EU staff and this drop in numbers could have severe consequences for patients and their families.
“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.”
The Health Foundation said that the UK has frequently used international recruitment in order to fill staffing shortages.
Since 2008 the majority of international nurses registering in the UK have come from the EU.
Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: “The recruitment and retention of nurses is one of the biggest challenges facing health and social care, with a shortage of 30,000 nurses in England alone.
“The drop in EU nurses registering to work in the UK could not be more stark – just 46 registered in April.
“Without EU nurses it will be even harder for the NHS and other employers to find the staff they need to provide safe patient care. The findings should be a wake-up call to politicians and health service leaders.”
Charlesworth said “action is needed to offset any further loss of EU nursing staff in the future”, adding that the “chronic” shortage of nurses is a result of cuts to training places and years of short-term planning”.
“A sustainable, long-term approach to workforce planning is desperately needed,” Charlesworth added.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We understand the need to give valued NHS staff from the EU certainty – which is exactly why we have made clear that the future of those EU nationals working in our health and care system should be a priority in Brexit negotiations.
“We also have over 52,000 nurses in training to ensure the NHS has the nurses it needs.”
A Government spokesperson said that some of the changes in the numbers could also be attributed to more rigorous language testing “therefore it is inaccurate to attribute this solely to the outcome of the EU referendum”.