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Almost a fifth of EU doctors have made plans to leave UK following Brexit vote

A BMA survey of EEA (European Economic Area) doctors working in the UK has found that almost half are considering leaving following the EU referendum result, with almost one in five having already made solid plans to relocate elsewhere.

There are approximately 12,000 EEA doctors working in the NHS in England – 7.7 per cent of the UK medical workforce – with many more working in public health and academic medicine1. Recruiting from Europe has been vital in dealing with staff shortages in UK health services, ensuring the NHS can provide high-quality, reliable and safe patient care.

A BMA survey2 of 1,720 EEA doctors working in the UK, found that:

  • Almost half (45 per cent) are considering leaving the UK following the referendum vote, with another 29 per cent saying they are unsure about whether they will leave;
  • Of those considering leaving, more than a third (39 per cent) have made plans to leave, meaning almost one in five EEA doctors (18 per cent) have made plans to leave the UK;
  • The top three reasons cited for considering leaving were the UK’s decision to leave the EU, a current negative attitude toward EU workers in the UK and continuing uncertainty over future immigration rules;
  • Germany, Spain and Australia are the top three countries that doctors are considering moving to;
  • 77 per cent of respondents said a negative outcome to Brexit negotiations on citizens’ rights would make them more likely to consider leaving the UK.

Since the referendum, the BMA has been calling on the government to ensure it protects the long-term stability of health services across the UK after it leaves the EU. Of particular importance is the need for a future immigration system that is sufficiently flexible, protects

EU doctors already working in the UK and enables overseas doctors to work in the UK in the future.

 The BMA has recently published a series of briefings on Brexit3, outlining proposals on how the UK and EU can maintain a working relationship after Brexit, and the potential implications of a failure to agree a withdrawal agreement by March 2019.

The BMA’s key asks in Brexit negotiations are:

  1. Permanent residence for EU doctors and medical researchers currently in the UK;
  2. A flexible immigration system which supports UK health and medical research;
  3. Mutual recognition of professional qualifications and measures which protect patient safety;
  4. Ongoing access to EU research programmes and research funding;
  5. Consideration of the unique impact Brexit may have on Northern Ireland’s health service.

Commenting on the survey findings, Dr Andrew Dearden, BMA treasurer, said:

“That so many EU doctors are actively planning to leave the UK is a cause for real concern. Many have dedicated years of service to the NHS and medical research in the UK, and without them our health service would not be able to cope.

“We need clarity on what the future holds for EU citizens and their families living in the UK, and an end to the uncertainty and insecurity that could see many voting with their feet.

“It’s also vital that any future immigration system is flexible enough to ensure the NHS can recruit and retain doctors and other NHS workers in sufficient numbers. Our NHS and patient care are all the richer for having a diverse workforce - it’s crucial we don’t lose valuable experience and expertise because of Brexit.”Dr Marco Nardini is a thoracic surgery trainee from Italy who moved back in August 2017 after spending almost two years in the UK. He said:

"My decision to leave was not solely because of Brexit, but it was definitely a key factor.

"One of my main concerns was around whether my qualifications would continue to be recognised abroad and in the UK. There's so much uncertainty at the moment - moving back to Italy and completing my training here seemed like the safer option rather than chasing a title from England which may not be recognised in the EU.

"I had also started to experience some negative attitudes from people. One patient at the end of a consultation started talking about the referendum outcome, saying it was a good thing as it would restrict immigration - I don't think he realised that he was talking to a foreigner. I agreed and smiled while saying goodbye and gave him by best wishes as usual, but it made me very sad.”


Notes to editors

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 2017 Brexit and the Medical Workforce Briefing, 2017, pg.3.

2. Between September 2017 and November 2017 the BMA conducted a survey of EEA doctors working in the UK. The survey had 1,720 responses.

3. The BMA has published a set of briefings about Brexit and health. You can read them here.


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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