The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is calling on the Government to secure the futures of nurses from the EU.
The call comes as new figures reveal the extent to which the health service is reliant on them, and the potential damage that continuing uncertainty over their future could have on quality of care.
The figures obtained from the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC) show that there are currently over 33,000 EU trained nurses registered to work in the UK.
This is more than the total number of nurses currently working in Wales, and rising.
Over 9,000 EU nurses joined the NMC register in 2015/16, which is a 21% increase on 2014/15.
Since the vote to leave the European Union, there has been great uncertainty over the future of EU nursing staff working in the UK.
These figures highlight their important contribution to the ongoing provision of safe care.
The RCN is therefore calling on the Government to secure their future in this country.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN said: “These are uncertain times for safe staffing in the health service, and a lack of concrete assurances over the future of EU nursing staff working in the UK is making the situation worse. It is vital that valued colleagues are supported to stay.
“A sustained lack of investment in training new nurses and years of pay restraint mean many experienced nurses can’t afford to stay in the profession. Plans to change student funding and question marks over our future relationship with the EU place even greater pressure on the NHS.
“The Government must act now and develop a coherent and sustainable workforce strategy for the future that recognises the critical contribution of overseas nurses as well as the pressing need to educate, recruit and retain a homegrown nursing workforce.
“Allowing this ambiguity about our NHS workforce to continue is a completely unfair way of treating people who are caring for our friends and families every single day. It may also prompt many to leave the UK, making it even harder for the NHS to provide safe patient care.”