Ongoing uncertainty over the UK’s exit from the European Union creates ‘serious instability’ for the NHS and its staff, BMA council chair Mark Porter has warned.
European doctors and medical students currently in the UK remain ‘frightened and anxious’ over their future status, a reality that threatens to demoralise health service staff as a whole.
Speaking at a conference on priorities for the health and social care workforce organised by the Westminster Health Forum, Dr Porter said that addressing risks posed by Brexit to EU staff was essential to safeguarding the NHS workforce.
He said: ‘We’re in serious danger, having gone through the Brexit vote … of demoralising our workforce, 30 per cent of whom come from overseas [with] half of them from the European Union.
‘Many are really quite frightened and anxious at the moment about whether they have a welcome place in this country and, indeed, whether they will literally be deported from this country when the Government achieves its self-sufficiency in doctors policy.
‘Some of [the medical workforce] don’t have the permanent right to remain at the moment and we [the BMA] believe that in order to give security to our workforce, they should be given that right to remain, perhaps as a one-off measure and regardless of the current five-year thresholds.
‘We also think it’s very important to address the serious instability expressed by people who have arrived here to qualify as medical students.
‘They are now in the middle of their courses and wondering about whether they’re even going to be allowed to complete those courses by working in the NHS.’
The BMA has previously backed calls for the Government to prioritise the health service in Brexit negotiations, and for all EU nationals currently working in the NHS to be given permanent residency.
Parliament last week voted in favour of the Government’s European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which will initiate the negotiation process.
However, an amendment to the bill aimed at giving permanent residency to all EU citizens in the UK was overturned in the Commons.
In his address to the conference, Dr Porter highlighted other areas affecting the workforce that needed to be prioritised.
These included a sensible debate over seven-day services and recognising that increased resources and investment are crucial to realising such changes, along with ending ‘perverse incentives’ against weekend work, such as comparatively higher pay rates for weekday elective working.
Dr Porter also addressed the issue of locum cover, which he said accounts for around £3bn a year across the NHS.
Much of this demand is being driven by a lack of appropriate increases in permanent staff, he said, owing to enormous levels of deficit among healthcare providers.
Find out more about the BMA’s guidance on Brexit
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