A BMA survey of EEA (European Economic Area) doctors working across the UK has found that more than four in ten are considering leaving the UK following the EU referendum result.
Around 10,000 doctors working in the NHS across the UK qualified in other EEA countries, with many more working in public health and academic medicine. The NHS in Scotland is facing ongoing medical recruitment and retention difficulties and any substantial loss of EEA doctors would make these problems significantly worse.
The survey of 1,193 EEA doctors 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.
• 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 after the referendum.
• On a scale of 1 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 9 out of 10 before the referendum, commitment dropped to an average of 6 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.
At the end of the 2016, the Scottish Government published a paper outlining its stance on Brexit which included recognition of the essential contribution that European doctors make to Scotland’s NHS.
Chair of BMA Scotland, Dr Peter Bennie said:
“This survey should set alarm bells ringing in Government. It shows just how much damage is being done by the needless and continuing uncertainty over the future status of European doctors who already work in our NHS.
“These are our colleagues and our friends and the ongoing uncertainty they face is deeply damaging. Together, we staff Scotland's hospitals and GP surgeries, look after vulnerable patients in the community, and conduct vital medical research to help save lives.
“Many European doctors have dedicated years of service to healthcare in the UK, so it’s extremely concerning that so many are considering leaving.
“The refusal of the Westminster Government to guarantee their right to continue contributing to our health service is understandably causing a significant number of European doctors to consider leaving the UK, regardless of what future agreement is reached.
“We should be in no doubt that the scale of the recruitment and retention difficulties that Scotland’s NHS is facing would be made exponentially worse without the contribution of European doctors.
“While the Scottish Government’s position of wanting to protect the future right of European NHS staff is welcome and was acknowledged by a number of this survey’s respondents, it is the Westminster Government that must act, and act quickly, to ensure long-term stability for the NHS by providing certainty about their future in the UK.
“It must also ensure that a future immigration system allows the NHS to continue employing European and overseas doctors to fill staff shortages in the health service.”
Because the survey did not ask all respondents to identify where in the UK they work, it is not possible to provide figures specific to Scotland. However some of the free-text comments made by European doctors who indicated that they are based in Scotland included:
One GP said who that “My home is in Scotland for 30 years, my family and friends are here.”
Another GP added that it is “not nice being labelled a bargaining chip.”
One consultant said that “I like living in Scotland and I feel like home in Scotland so I could not imagine myself to be forced to leave.”
While another said that “I never had to question whether I was appreciated because of my origin. Before the referendum I felt appreciated because of my contribution to the NHS, I did not feel foreign... Now I feel vulnerable.”
However, the different attitude towards Brexit and European doctors in Scotland was also recognised in responses:
One GP said that the UK Government should “assure current levels of job security and access. Defend and value publicly foreign doctors in the same way it has been done by the Scottish Government.”
A consultant said that “I feel that the UK government's position regarding international doctors and specifically, European doctors is currently unclear and I would hope that we are not going to be used as a bargaining chips. The Scottish Government has taken a clearer line and as I work in Scotland, I feel more supported here.”