VITAL care workers could quit Scotland after Brexit, leaving the system for supporting vulnerable and elderly people "in tatters", experts have warned after a report found nearly 10,000 could be affected.

Research by Ipsos Mori for thee Scottish government estimated that one in 10 workers in adult social care and childcare are non-UK EU nationals – around 9,830 people.

While managers in the sector said the impact of Brexit on workforces had so far been limited, the survey found many were finding recruitment and retention more difficult over the last year as workers react to the uncertainty about when and how Britain leaves the EU.

The biggest danger could be in nurse agencies, where 16.5 per cent of workers are non-EU nationals and more than half of recruiters say it has got harder to fill vacancies.

The research came less than a week after one of Scotland's leading care home providers said the sector would face "certain collapse" without foreign workers. Mary Preston, Operations Director for Meallmore, which operates 23 care homes across Scotland, said companies were facing a major challenge and were having to work harder to recruit overseas applicants.

Donald MacAskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, welcomed the Ipsos/Mori findings but said they were a conservative estimate. "If anything it doesn't go far enough," he said. "We have been calling for a commitment to clarity but events over the last few hours and over the weekend are further indication that we aren't getting that."

"We agree that there is a particular challenge facing nurses with a 31 per cent vacancy rate for nurses in care homes. The lack of a commitment to put in place a flexible migration system which priorities the real gaps in social care is causing us profound concern."

He said the impact was not just on EU nationals as a general negative political climate around migration was putting off non-EU workers too.

"The consequences of this political gamesmanship over Brexit are going to leave some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland stuck in hospitals because there will not be enough people in the community to care for them," he said. "When all the politicians fall silent we will have a social care system in tatters."

The Ipsos/Mori research surveyed1,572 employers from across the social care sector as well as in-depth interviews with 20 employers and 10 workers.

The majority of managers reported no change over the last 12 months in the number of applications they had received from non-UK EU nationals.

Brexit was not mentioned spontaneously by care service managers as a factor currently impacting on retention but more were concerned about recruitment and retention in the future.

"The qualitative research reinforced the survey findings that Brexit appeared to have had a limited impact on the sector to date," the report said.

"Nonetheless, it did point to concerns that Brexit could prove more of a challenge in the future, with both managers and workers unsure as to what had been decided thus far.

"These findings suggest a clear need for both audiences to be provided with more information about the UK Government and European Commission's agreement on the matter."

Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said: "European citizens make a fantastic contribution to our care services through their knowledge and dedicated hard work in both adult social care and childcare.

"This report makes clear that we need to do all we can to help these almost 10,000 caring professionals to stay in Scotland and plan for Brexit.

"It would be unacceptable if years of work to make care an attractive and rewarding career for people from both Scotland and abroad was to be damaged by Brexit."