More than 22,000 EU nationals have left the NHS since the EU referendum in 2016, new figures suggest.
The figures emerged as Boris Johnson came under fire for saying that EU migrants had been “treating Britain as their own” for too long.
Responses by 88 NHS hospital trusts to freedom of information enquiries revealed that the 22,600 EU nationals leaving the service over the past three years included 8,800 nurses and midwives.
The numbers quitting the NHS increased by 21 per cent from 7,037 in 2015, the year before the referendum, to 8,540 the year after in 2017. While departures declined to 7,647 in 2018, the number remained 9 per cent above pre-referendum levels.
Mr Johnson’s pledge to increase nursing numbers by 50,000 is dependent on recruiting 12,000 new nurses from overseas.
But Liberal Democrats say this drive will be undermined by new visa and migrant health surcharge requirements due to be extended to EU nationals after Brexit, which would cost European nurses £3,589 over five years.
The party unveiled digital ads branding the charges a “nurse tax” which will raise the government £4m from foreign nurses if Mr Johnson is successful in his recruitment plans.
Lib Dem health spokesperson Luciana Berger said: “These figures show the damage that Brexit has already done to our NHS, driving away the nurses and other health professionals that we so desperately need.
“Boris Johnson would make this crisis even worse by heartlessly slapping a nurse tax worth thousands of pounds on those coming to work for our health service. EU nationals are integral to our NHS and yet the Tories are treating them like dirt.
“The Liberal Democrats are the only major party standing up for free movement and for the EU staff our NHS relies on. We will stop Brexit, stop Boris and protect the NHS.”
Lib Dems claimed that Brexit was already costing the government up to £470m a week – significantly more than the £350m which Mr Johnson claimed during his referendum campaign that it would save.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) recently estimated that GDP is between £55bn and £66bn lower this year than it would have been without Brexit. With public sector receipts typically amounting to 37 per cent of GDP, this equates to between £20.3bn and £24.3bn less income for the government to spend on services such as the NHS.
Lib Dem shadow chancellor Ed Davey said: “Boris’s lie on the side of a bus was an even bigger whopper than we thought. Not only does Brexit not mean an extra £350m a week for the NHS, it actually means £350m a week less – and that’s before we’ve even left.”
Meanwhile, Tories claimed that Labour would create more than 100 new quangos if it won power, at a total cost of £13.2bn over five years.
The party said that Labour’s manifesto included plans for a range of new bodies from an Agricultural Wages Board and School Support Staff Negotiating Body to an English Sovereign Land Trust and a new network of Government Offices of the Regions and Regional Development Agencies.
Chief secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak said: “Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to set up over a hundred new quangos will hugely increase bureaucracy and waste in government.
"Corbyn’s new quangos range from the pointless and profligate to the deeply damaging and sinister. I am particularly concerned that they will hugely increase the power of their chums in the trade unions which will mean more strikes and more gridlock.”
But Labour shadow cabinet minister Jon Trickett responded: “Labour is committed to making government accountable and putting power in the hands of the people. We are proud of our transformative manifesto and our ambitious plans to start implementing it in our 100 days in government.”