NHS bosses in Woolwich have offered to pay for visas for EU staff in a bid to help them stay after Brexit, it was confirmed last night.

Ben Travis, the chief executive of Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, which runs Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said the trust was footing the bill to prevent a surge in vacancies following the split with Europe later this year.

Workers affected by Brexit make up roughly eight per cent of the trust’s workforce.

The trust is offering to pay registration fees for the government’s settlement scheme, which NHS workers have had access to since November.

The registration fee for the scheme is £65 per adult.

“Settled status” will give EU citizens unrestricted rights to stay in the UK, and the right to a British passport after five years of residency.

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“The analysis we have done shows that 8.1 per cent of our staff are British EU citizens,” the chief executive said at a health scrutiny meeting.

“We have said that we will support people with the registration fee so they can try and get citizenship.

“We made a commitment we will fund that for them.

“I have written to them to say how much we value them and want to support them. Hopefully by offering to do that that we will make it clear how much they are wanted.

“I suppose we will have to see how things progress in the coming months and years.”

Analysis from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found EU staff made up 12 per cent of the trust’s doctors, 10.2 per cent of nurses and 10.2 per cent of midwives.

Those who do not apply may have to leave the country by December 2020.

Recruiting and retaining staff has been a challenge, Mr Travis said, with many vacancies being filled by agency staff – an expensive solution for stretched health budgets.

“One of the big challenges we have is workforce,” Mr Travis said. “We’d like to open up all our beds but the reality is we struggle to have enough staff to open up all wards.

“Things are improving very significantly, but that takes time. Often we have to use agency staff.  Workforce remains our biggest challenge.”

The trust runs Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, University Hospital Lewisham and some services at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup.