Calls to guarantee permanent residence for EU nationals ahead of Brexit talks
European Union nationals living in Britain before Brexit formally begins should be guaranteed permanent residence now to ease the risk of NHS and social care staff leaving the country, health chiefs have said.
The Cavendish Coalition group of health and social care representatives backed calls for nearly three million EU nationals to be allowed to remain in the UK, saying it would ease "uncertainty and anxiety" in the under-pressure sectors.
According to the House of Lords library, EU nationals make up around 4.95% of the staff in NHS trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups, and 5% of the social care workforce.
The coalition spoke a s a group of UK-resident Europeans travelled to Downing Street to urge Theresa May to stop using them as "bargaining chips" in negotiations.
The Prime Minister was told to act on the recommendations of an inquiry chaired by a Brexit-supporting MP and run by think-tank British Future.
It said Mrs May's refusal to agree the status of Europeans in the country unless the rights of Britons living on the continent are guaranteed was "morally wrong".
Responding to the report, the Cavendish Coalition, which includes the likes of the NHS Confederation and British Medical Association, told Mrs May to take the "fair and reasonable" proposals "very seriously".
Danny Mortimer, chair of the coalition and chief executive of NHS Employers, said: "Quickly confirming the right to remain for EU nationals currently working in social care and health across the UK removes the uncertainty and anxiety for individuals and their families and mitigates the risk of staff leaving.
"After consulting a wide array of organisations including the Cavendish Coalition, British Future has put forward a set of recommendations which would provide this certainty."
British Future called for the UK to "make the first move" to demonstrate "goodwill" as it embarks on its divorce negotiations.
The panel, which included a cross-party group of MPs, said all 2.8 million EU nationals should be eligible for permanent residence with the same health, social and education rights as British citizens.
If found that setting the date that Article 50 is triggered as the cut-off point would be fair and legally watertight but would not lead to a surge in migration from across the bloc and European Economic Area nations.
Labour's Gisela Stuart, a Leave campaigner who chaired the inquiry, said: "Britain should make clear at the start of the Brexit negotiations that EU citizens already here before that date can stay.
"This would send a clear signal about the kind of country the UK will be after Brexit and the relationship we want with Europe. We should expect reciprocal deals for Britons living in European countries, but Britain should make the first move to demonstrate goodwill."
At Downing Street, campaign group The 3 Million, which represents EU nationals in the UK, warned Mrs May she would face a "bureaucratic nightmare" to register them unless she backs the recommendations.
Its French chair Nicolas Hatton, a former marketing worker who has lived in the UK for 21 years, told the Press Association: "We don't want to be bargaining chips because we don't believe you can negotiate people's lives.
"At the same time we don't want to be the victims of a bureaucratic nightmare because it would be crazy for the Government not to act now and then be left with an impossible task of registering everybody."
Mr Hatton was joined by former Labour MP Roger Casale, founder of New Europeans, a membership organisation which represents EU nationals, including British expats.
Mr Casale said expats living in Europe also want Mrs May to guarantee the status of EU nationals in the UK to pave the way for their own rights to be secured.
"They don't want to be treated as bargaining chips any more than EU nationals here want to be treated as bargaining chips, they don't like this rhetoric, it sends the wrong message and it doesn't help," he said.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "There is mounting sense of very real injustice about this. Labour will continue to push the Government to act and to ensure EU nationals are not used as part of the negotiation process."
The Prime Minister's official spokeswoman told reporters that Mrs May had set out "very clearly" soon after the referendum that "we would expect to be able to guarantee the rights of EU citizens here".
She added: "The only scenario in which we wouldn't be able to do that is were that not to be a reciprocal arrangement for Brits living in the EU."