Four in 10 European doctors working in Britain 'considering leaving because of Brexit'

Many EU doctors feel unwelcome and uncertain of future after referendum result, says union chief

Katie Forster
Thursday 23 February 2017 01:00
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A picture of EU nationals working in the NHS, which went viral last summer
A picture of EU nationals working in the NHS, which went viral last summer

Four in every 10 European doctors working in Britain are considering leaving the UK following the Brexit vote, a new survey has found.

The British Medical Association (BMA) polled 1,193 doctors from the European Economic Area working in the UK and found 42 per cent are thinking of leaving the country, with a further 23 per cent unsure.

Among NHS staff in England, 59,796 are from the European Union, according to NHS Digital, including 10,267 doctors – around 6.6 per cent of the UK medical workforce.

Dr Mark Porter, the BMA’s chairman of council, said many doctors from the EU felt “unwelcome and uncertain about whether they and their families will have the right to live and work in the UK after Brexit”.

He warned that an exodus of European staff could spell “disaster” for the NHS when it is “already at breaking point and facing crippling staff shortages”.

“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,” said Dr Porter.

“Many have dedicated years of service to healthcare in the UK, so it’s extremely concerning that so many are considering leaving.”

The numbers behind the NHS crisis

European doctors told the BMA they felt “less committed” to working in the UK due to the result of the EU referendum, and said they felt less appreciated by the Government since the vote.

Before the referendum, European doctors rated how appreciated they felt by the UK Government at seven out of 10. After the Brexit vote, this dropped to four out of 10.

Dr Porter called on Theresa May to “ensure long-term stability across the healthcare system by providing certainty to medical professionals from the EU about their future in the UK”.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the NHS should train and hire more British doctors after the country leaves the EU and has pledged to increase the number of medical school places by 25 per cent from 2018.

“I think people will ask whether it is right when we are turning away bright British youngsters from medical school – who might get three A* [at A-level] but still can’t get in – at the same time we are importing people from all over the world,” he told the Mail on Sunday.

West Sussex GP Dr Birgit Woolley, originally from Germany, has worked in the UK for two decades but said the Brexit vote had left her “increasingly uncertain” about her future in Britain.

“It is unsettling that in a country that I have contributed to for 20 years and consider home, I am now seen as a foreigner and have to prove that I deserve to live and work here,” she said adding that she was considering a move back to Germany.

“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.”

Commenting on the survey, Professor Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “The Government, the NHS and the public need to value and support all NHS staff, wherever they are from.

“Currently a quarter of NHS doctors are from overseas, and the NHS has benefited from their talents, abilities and commitment to working with us in the UK – we must continue to support them, despite the insecurity caused by the Brexit situation.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “As the Government has repeatedly made clear, overseas workers form a crucial part of our NHS and we value their contribution immensely.

“We want to see the outstanding work of doctors and nurses who are already trained overseas continue, but at the same time we have been very clear that we want to give more domestic students the chance to be doctors, given the enduring popularity of this as a career.”

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