Brexit could have "serious implications" on Ireland's struggling health workforce, one of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) top officials has warned.
Jim Campbell, director of the WHO's health workforce department, said he was concerned that post Brexit the UK may try to fill gaps left by EU migrant health workers by attracting nurses and medics from Ireland under a bilateral agreement.
He warned that Ireland is already experiencing challenges in the recruitment and retention of health professionals and further shortages would present a risk to the effective functioning of the health system.
"The decision of the UK Government to exit Europe has already had a major destabilising impact on the freedom of people's individual choices to migrate and work in the UK NHS.
"People are voting with their feet and looking elsewhere," said Mr Campbell.
"If the UK would then experience additional pressures on recruiting from the EU we can anticipate there will be a bigger drive from them to attract health workers. As a neighbouring country, Irish health workers could suddenly be approached, (under) that traditional UK-Ireland bilateral agreement.
"A gap in one country becomes an opportunity for others to move so I would be particularly concerned that the long term impact of the Brexit discussion could have serious implications for the Irish health workforce," he warned.
Mr Campbell was speaking on Tuesday ahead of a four day Global Forum on Human Resources for Health being held at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in Ballsbridge, Dublin.
The Forum is convened by the Department of Health, the World Health Organisation, Trinity College Dublin, the Health Service Executive, Irish Aid, and Global Health Workforce Network.
The organisations have warned that the world is heading towards a shortfall of 18 million health workers by 2030, especially in poorer countries.
Mr Campbell said that Ireland can help reduce the predicted shortfall by building a sustainable workforce with its own citizens and becoming less dependent on foreign born and foreign trained health workers.
"As you build your own sustainable workforce you have automatically a positive impact on other countries not losing their healthcare workers," he added.
Mr Campbell warned there is a danger that the next global outbreak could "overwhelm health systems globally".
"All it would need would be one terrible bout of influenza to really put pressure around the world.
"We are one outbreak away from really having a collapse of what we anticipate of the health care systems that we rely upon. Global health security is a serious concern and we need to invest in the workforce for emergency preparedness.
"Health workers are not a cost to be maintained. It is an investment in the health of the population, an investment in a powerful dynamic economic sector, an investment in women's jobs and in our health and care economies," Mr Campbell added.