The NHS could lose all its EU midwives in the next decade thanks to Brexit, experts have warned.
There are currently enough trained staff from Europe to cover 12 maternity units in English hospitals, caring for 40,000 new mums every year.
But according to the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), more have been leaving the UK than arriving since the 2016 referendum - and if the current rate of decline continues, the health service could lose all of them within the next 10 years.
Director of policy, employment relations and communications Jon Skewes told HuffPost UK: “We are extremely lucky to have so many European midwives working here in our NHS, caring for tens of thousands of women every year.
“The RCM is deeply concerned that we are already seeing them leaving midwifery at an alarming rate. Midwives from other EU countries need absolute certainty about their status, and we must keep the door open after Brexit too. If we don’t do that an already big midwifery shortage will get even worse.”
To practise as a midwife anywhere in the UK, individuals must register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the profession’s regulator - which is able to track how many workers come from the EU.
The RCM says its figures show the number of European midwives registering in the UK “fell off a cliff” in summer 2016, with a staggering 94% drop in the year after the vote.
MPs held a debate on the impact of Brexit on the NHS in Westminster Hall on Thursday, following a request from cross-party campaigners More United - who want politicians to “set aside tribal differences” to examine the cost of the UK’s Leave vote.
More than 40 MPs from five different parties supported the group’s calls for a debate on the number of healthcare workers leaving the UK.
Labour MP Dr Paul Williams, a practising GP and supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, said: “People were promised extra money for the NHS if they voted to leave the EU, but increasingly it looks like Brexit will break our health service.
“With EU midwives leaving in higher numbers and the number of new arrivals collapsing, the Royal College of Midwives says that at current rates there could be no EU midwives working in the NHS within 10 years.
“That would be a tragedy, and disastrous for all those who rely on our precious health service.
“If the cost of Brexit is a broken NHS, we are all entitled to keep an open mind about whether it’s the right path for the country.”
Latest figures show the NHS is already short of 3,500 midwives in England alone and is also struggling to recruit nurses.
Open Britain supporters from a range of parties have warned Brexit is the “biggest challenge of all” facing the already cash-strapped health service in the coming years.
Leading Leave supporters, including foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg, have promised the NHS a cash windfall when the UK receives its “Brexit dividend” - money saved a result of leaving the EU - post-March 2019.