A coalition of 34 health and social care organisations is piling pressure on the government to assign the UK’s ability to recruit and retain NHS staff “the utmost priority” in Brexit negotiations, or risk losing a significant chunk of the workforce.

The Coalition has written to the secretaries of state for the home department, exiting the European Union and health to voice their concerns over future immigration rules, calling for a ‘straightforward and responsible transitional system’ under which healthcare workers from the EEA (European Economic Area) who come to the UK before a set cut-off date are guaranteed permanent rights to remain in the country.

“It is absolutely critical that the Government takes all possible measures to safeguard the supply of health and social care workers needed to continue delivering safe, high-quality care,” noted Cavendish Coalition co-convenor Danny Mortimer.

The system must be “flexible enough to allow social care and health to recruit from Europe when staffing needs cannot be met through additional domestic recruitment and training,” he stressed.

Earlier in the week BMA council chair Mark Porter warned that the health service had been left with a “profound and gnawing uncertainty” after prime minister Theresa May pushed the button on Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, marking the start of negotiations over Britain’s departure from the EU.

In an email to members he said the health service would collapse without the contribution of European colleagues.

“Around 22,000 GMC-registered doctors with a licence to practise obtained their qualification from another EEA country, and more than half work in the NHS,” he noted.

“The Government needs to understand that our European colleagues are not temps, they’re not stopgaps or bargaining chips. They are people, and they are doctors, and they are valued by their colleagues and patients. Our Government should value them too,” Dr Porter said.

A survey by the Association earlier this year found that 42 percent of EEA doctors working in the NHS were exiting the UK because of the Brexit vote.