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New research has revealed that almost 5,000 nurses and midwives for EU countries have quit the NHS in the past two years, with many identifying Brexit as a reason for leaving.

Figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) found that the number of EU-trained nurses and midwives working in the NHS across the UK fell from a record high of 38,024 in March 2017 to 33,035 in March this year, a drop of 4,989, or 13%.

When the NMC asked nurses and midwives why they had left its register, 51% of those trained in the EU said Brexit had encouraged them to consider leaving the UK.

The regulator’s research also found that more than 11,000 nurses and midwives left its register in a six-month period last year. Almost one in three of the 3,504 who explained their decision said that their jobs were too pressurised and, as a result, they were stressed, had poor mental health or both.

Gill Walton, the chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: “Unfortunately over the last year just 33 midwives arrived from elsewhere in the EU to work as midwives here in the UK, and we used to count them in their hundreds. UK maternity services are already stretched and short-staffed, but Brexit threatens to make things even worse.”

Dame Donna Kinnair, the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Politicians should be alarmed that almost one in three [of those who] quit nursing [did so] because of intolerable pressure. They have abused the goodwill of nurses for too long and that dam is starting to burst.”

She added: “The modest increases in the number of registrants are not of the scale or kind needed to meet demand and the workforce crisis isn’t abating. It is inappropriate to rely on a steady stream of nurses from beyond the EU, which seems to be the plan in England in particular.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Nursing is such a rewarding job, as I know from family experience. At the heart of the NHS are thousands of nurses and midwives working tirelessly to provide incredible care to people in need every day.

“It’s excellent news to see more nurses and midwives are joining our brilliant NHS from at home and abroad and we value each and every one.

“As we put £33.9 billion extra into our NHS we need to see yet more people make a career in our health service and make it the best possible employer for existing staff.”

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