UNDER-PRESSURE hospitals are starting to feel the effects of Brexit on its staff before it has even happened.

Figures revealed through a Freedom of Information request show the number of EU nationals leaving NHS trusts across Sussex is rising while fewer are joining.

Hospitals are already dealing with a national shortage of nurses and other medical staff and it is feared an exodus of workers could have a major impact.

Part of the problem is the continued uncertainty over what will happen when Brexit happens and the difficulties EU nationals working in the UK will have.

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust had 88 EU nationals leave between April 2014 and March 2015, which was 10.9 per cent of all leavers.

Between April 2015 and March 2016, the rate rose to 12.9 per cent.

The rate increased significantly to 19.2 per cent between April and September last year.

The Brexit vote took place in June last year.

EU leavers at East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust rose from 6.3 per cent to 9.8 per cent over the same period.

Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust rose from 7.8 per cent to 10.7 per cent.

At the same time Brighton and Sussex and Western Sussex reported a fall in the number of new recruits from the EU.

However, East Sussex bucked the trend and had an increase.

Brighton and Sussex director of human resources Helen Weatherill said: “Hospitals benefit from being able to include skilled and dedicated staff from across the EU, as well as from further afield, in our workforce.

“Patient care is our top priority.

“All our staff work hard and share the same commitment to providing this care and their efforts are hugely appreciated.”

Western Sussex human resources director Jennie Shore said the diversity of its workforce was one of the trust’s key strengths.

She said: “We actively recruit staff locally, nationally, as well as from the EU and further abroad.

“What unites us all is a shared purpose, from ward to board, to continually improve the care and services we provide for patients.”

East Sussex Healthcare said staff from both the EU and overseas formed a “crucial” part of the workforce and their contribution was valued immensely.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a recent interview he wanted EU workers to stay with the NHS and he was “very confident” they would be able to.

He said: “But you do have a negotiation, that’s what happens when you make a big decision like Brexit and so the formal dotting of the I’s and crossing of the T’s takes a bit of time.”