Close to half of EU nationals working as doctors, including as GPs, in the NHS are planning to leave the UK when the country exits the EU.
A BMA survey of over a thousand doctors, almost 300 of which were GPs, found that 42% are already considering leaving the country, with a further 23% saying they were unsure. Of GPs, 38% expressed an intention to leave the UK.
The BMA – which said there are some 10,000 doctors in the UK who qualified in the European Economic Area (EEA), or 6.6% of the workforce – found that while doctors still feel valued by their patients, they feel ‘significantly’ less valued by the Government following the referendum.
Findings of the BMA’s EU doctor survey
- More than four out of ten (42%) are considering leaving the UK following the referendum vote, with a further quarter (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.
- 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.
Source: BMA survey of 1,193 NHS doctors who are EU nationals, including 279 GPs
BMA chair Dr Mark Porter said the potential exodus of EU doctors would ‘be a disaster’ for the NHS, which would ‘threaten’ the quality of patient care.
Dr Porter said: ‘Many [doctors] 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.’
He said this comes ‘at a time when the NHS is already at breaking point and facing crippling staff shortages’, with data showing that the number of doctor vacancies ‘increased by around 60% between 2013 and 2015’.
He said: ‘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.’
Dr Porter has already written to the Prime Minister Theresa May to request an urgent meeting to discuss consequences of Brexit for EU doctors working in the UK.
But Ms May indicated in a speech last month that she would not give guarantees to any EU nationals living in the UK until there were reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals living elsewere in the EU.
Dr Birgit Woolley, who has practiced as a GP in Worthing, West Sussex, for 20 years but is originally from Germany, said this made her feel like she was being used as a ‘bargaining chip’.
She said: ‘It is unsettling that in a country 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. But the reality is that the Government does not appreciate what EU nationals like me have contributed to the UK, and only see us as bargaining chips.’
NHS England’s targeting of EU GPs
NHS England is set to push ahead with its plan to recruit hundreds of GPs from Europe, despite health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s pledge last year for the NHS to start relying on ‘homegrown’ doctors.
The GP Forward View outlined NHS England’s plan to attract 500 GPs of its 5,000 GP target from overseas.
Pulse revealed last summer that Lincolnshire LMC had been working with European medical recruiters to attract GPs to work in the county. GPs from Poland, Romania and Spain have been targeted and 13 GPs have been recruited so far.