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Future of UK health care at risk as more than four in ten European doctors considering leaving UK following Brexit vote

A BMA survey of EEA (European Economic Area) doctors working in the UK, has found that more than four in ten are considering leaving following the EU referendum result.

Around 10,000 doctors who work in the NHS – 6.6 per cent of the UK medical workforce - qualified in the EEA with many more working in public health and academic medicine1. Recruiting from Europe has been vital in dealing with staff shortages in the UK health services, enabling them to continue providing a high-quality, reliable and safe service to patients.

The survey of 1193 EEA doctors working in the UK, found that: 

  • More than four out of ten (42 per cent) are considering leaving the UK following the referendum vote, with a further quarter (23 per cent) unsure.2
  • On a scale of one to 10, European doctors stated they feel substantially less appreciated by the UK Government in light of the EU referendum result. The average rating dropped from seven out of 10 before the referendum, to less than four out of 10 after the referendum.
  • On a scale of one to 10, European doctors stated they feel significantly less committed to working in the UK in light of the EU referendum result. From an average rating of nine out of 10 before the referendum, commitment dropped to an average of six out of 10 after the result.
  • European doctors felt highly appreciated by patients before the EU referendum result, and this continues to be the case.

Since the vote to leave the EU, the BMA has been calling on the government to ensure long-term stability for health services across the UK. It must also ensure that a future immigration system is flexible enough to enable overseas doctors to continue being employed.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said:

“While thousands of overseas and EU doctors work across the UK to provide the best possible care for patients, many from the EU are left feeling unwelcome and uncertain about whether they and their families will have the right to live and work in the UK after Brexit.

“These are the people who staff our hospitals and GP surgeries, look after vulnerable patients in the community, and conduct vital medical research to help save lives. Many have dedicated years of service to healthcare in the UK, so it’s extremely concerning that so many are considering leaving.

“At a time when the NHS is already at breaking point and facing crippling staff shortages, this would be a disaster and threaten the delivery of high-quality patient care. But this isn’t just about numbers. The quality of patient care is improved where doctors have diverse experiences and expertise. 

“The government must act now to ensure long-term stability across the healthcare system by providing certainty to medical professionals from the EU about their future in the UK. It must also ensure that a future immigration system allows the NHS to continue employing EU and overseas doctors to fill staff shortages in the health service.”

Staff shortages are worsening across the UK. Recent figures show that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the number of doctor vacancies increased by around 60 per cent between 2013 and 2015.3

Dr Birgit Woolley, originally from Germany, has been a GP in the UK for twenty years and also volunteers as a counsellor for a local charity.

She said: 

“Since the result of the EU referendum I feel increasingly uncertain about my future here, and am considering returning to Germany. It is unsettling that in a country that I have contributed to for twenty years and consider home, I am now seen as a foreigner and have to prove that I deserve to live and work here.

“I feel supported by my patients, with even those that voted leave telling me ‘You can stay because you're a doctor. We like you. We didn’t mean you.’ But the reality is that the government does not appreciate what EU nationals like me have contributed to the UK, and only sees us as bargaining chips.”

ENDS

Notes to editor

The British Medical Association (BMA) is the voice of doctors and medical students in the UK. It is an apolitical professional organisation and independent trade union, representing doctors and medical students from all branches of medicine across the UK and supporting them to deliver the highest standards of care.

  1. BMA, 2014 Medical Workforce Briefing, 2015, pg. 11.
  2. Out of 1193, 500 said yes, 278 said not sure, 309 answered no and 106 did not answer.
  3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-35667939 

For further information please contact:

British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JP
Telephone: 020 7383 6448 
Email: [email protected]
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