The number of new nurses registering to practice in the UK has fallen from a high of 1,304 in July last year to just 46 in April 2017, according to figures released today by the Health Foundation.
This is thought to be partly due to the country's decision to leave the EU, but the Health Foundation said the 96% drop was mostly a result of short-term planning and cuts to training places.
It is estimated that there is a shortage of 30,000 nurses in England alone, with the recruitment and retention of staff considered one of the biggest challenges facing the NHS.
"The fall in EU nurses registering to work in the UK could not be more stark - just 46 registered to work in the UK in April," Health Foundation director of research and economics, Anita Charlesworth, said.
"Without EU nurses it will be even harder for the NHS and other employers to find the staff they need to provide safe patient care. The findings should be a wake-up call to politicians and health service leaders."
The number of new nurse registrants from the EU since January 2016 is shown below:
The figures reveal a rise of more than 20% each year between 2013 and 2016, but an increase of just 9.9% over the last year, with the number registering for the first time declining steeply since July.
The NMC said that the introduction of English language testing for EU nurses, introduced in January last year, was partly responsible for the fall in numbers.
"Earlier this year we released figures which showed the number of EU-trained nurses and midwives joining our register was reducing and the number leaving our register was increasing," NMC chief executive, Jackie Smith, said.
"It is still too early to say definitively that this is due to any one reason. It is more likely that a combination of factors are at play including the recent introduction of English language controls and the uncertainty about the effect of Brexit on individual nurses.
"As a result, we will be shortly undertaking research to help us better understand the reasons why these nurses and midwives are choosing to leave our register."
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