Thousands of doctors could quit UK because of Brexit

Thousands of doctors who qualified in Europe could quit the UK following the Brexit vote – adding to further pressure on the already creaking National Health Service.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has said that a poll of its members showed that around four in ten European doctors are considering leaving the country because of Brexit.

The BMA’s figures came after unconfirmed figures for January showed more A&E units than ever before were missing a four-hour waiting time target, due to winter pressures, shortages of beds and staff, and patients stuck in hospitals because of a lack of social care capacity.

Results were based on a survey of 1,193 European Economic Area (EEA) doctors working in the UK.

Around 10,000 doctors who work in the NHS – 6.6% of the UK medical workforce – qualified in the EEA with many more working in public health and academic medicine, said the BMA.

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 BMA added.

The survey found 42% of those responding are considering leaving the UK following the referendum vote, with a further 23% 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 out of 10 after the referendum.

Commitment to working in the UK also dropped from an average of nine out of 10 before the referendum, to an average of six out of 10 after the result.

However European doctors felt highly appreciated by patients before the EU referendum result, and this continues to be the case.

The BMA said any future immigration system is flexible enough to enable overseas doctors to continue being employed.

BMA council chair Dr Mark Porter 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.

“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 BMA noted that recent figures show that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the number of doctor vacancies increased by around 60% between 2013 and 2015.

A Department of Health spokesperson noted that it has invested in 34,800 extra clinical staff, including more than 11,600 more doctors and more than 13,400 nurses since May 2010.

A DH 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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