Emeritus professor of nursing at Plymouth University, Baroness Watkins of Tavistock said Brexit raised “serious uncertainty” about the supply of staff from abroad, who were the “lifeblood” of the service.
Opening a Lords debate, the independent crossbench peer warned that this, together with the scrapping of bursaries for nursing, could pose a “dangerous threat to the quality of patient care”.
Lady Watkins said it was estimated that between 5% and 10% of nurses, midwives, ambulance and scientific staff were from other EU countries.
“EU nationals play an integral role in delivering care and our NHS is particularly dependent on these crucial staff.
“Yet EU nationals already working in these services are worried about what the future holds and whether they will be able to continue to make a valuable contribution to our society.
“These professionals are highly valued and we simply cannot do without them,” she told peers.
Former NHS chief executive Lord Crisp warned: “There is trouble ahead.”
He said the NHS and social care were both vulnerable to loss of staff from the EU. It was too early to be clear exactly what would happen but there were both short term impacts and longer term implications.
“It’s about future recruitment as well as maintaining the current workforce,” the independent crossbench peer said. Ministers need to give strong assurances to health workers about their continuing role in the NHS.
“It’s particularly sad that the referendum result has released suppressed racism and other anti-social attitudes among some people and seems to have given permission for them to be expressed.”
Lord Crisp said such attitudes needed to be put “firmly back into the box” and urged the Government to give a higher priority to the NHS, warning the Brexit vote was already having an impact on university research.