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Majority of GPs concerned Brexit will exacerbate staffing problems

Around 60% of GPs say that the number of staff working in GP practices will decrease as a result of Brexit, a survey by the publishers of Pulse has revealed.

The survey of 1,734 NHS primary care staff, including 750 GPs, found that there are concerns the triggering of Article 50 at the end of this month will have a negative effect on staffing and budgets.

Only 3% of staff believe that Brexit will have a positive effect on staffing levels, with more than 50% saying that it will have a negative effect.

The study by the research division of Pulse’s publishers, Cogora, found that GPs are more pessimistic than their primary care colleagues around staffing and budgets.

It also found that more staff thought Brexit would have a negative view on the number of patients accessing NHS care than a positive one – which contradicts the Leave campaign’s claims that leaving the EU would help address ‘scandalous’ NHS waiting times.

The main survey findings resolve around the negative effect on staffing levels, with 50% of all staff saying the numbers of GPs will decrease, and 60% saying the number of nurses will decrease.

The findings come amid a recruitment crisis in general practice, with the Government’s pledges to increase the GP workforce by 5,000 by 2020 currently struggling. Official figures last year revealed that the number of full-time equivalent GPs in the NHS decreased in 2015-16, while Pulse studies have revealed that vacancy rates for GPs are increasing every year.

Around 10% of registered doctors and 4% of nursing staff come from the EU, according to the GMC.

And NHS England has made a concerted effort to target GPs from the EU through a £20m scheme to ease the recruitment crisis, with 25 GPs already recruited in Lincolnshire and more set to be recruited in Hull and in Essex.

But the status of these EU nationals post Brexit has yet to be confirmed or guaranteed by the UK Government.

Deputy GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘GPs and their practice staff are understandably anxious about the potential impact of leaving the EU. We are under no illusion that the very visible promise of £350m a week for the NHS during the referendum campaign will be delivered, and fear the opposite is likely to happen – the cost pressures facing the NHS will only get worse.

‘At a time when general practice is overstretched and depending heavily on doctors and staff from overseas, we are seriously concerned that staff recruitment will only worsen post-Brexit.’

He added that the Government ‘must ensure long-term stability across the NHS by providing certainty to medical professionals from the EU about their future in the UK’.

‘It must face up to the current pressures on the NHS and acknowledge the impact that Brexit may have, by properly resourcing general practice to ensure that GPs can provide the time and care needed to meet the increasing needs of patients,’ he said.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard also said the Government must urgently ‘safeguard’ the rights of EU nationals in the UK, which are ‘vital’ to the NHS.

She added: ‘We have a severe shortage of GPs and other practice staff across the UK and we are very grateful for the work that doctors from overseas are doing to deliver excellent patient care – and support us to meet the demands of our ageing and growing population.

‘We also need assurances that leaving the EU will not impede efforts to recruit, retain and “return” the thousands of GPs, that it has been acknowledged are necessary to deliver safe patient care.’

Further, addressing the ‘misleading pledges’ about NHS funding by the Leave campaign, she said these ‘clearly influenced the eventual outcome of the referendum’.

She said: ‘Unfortunately, there is no one to hold to account for these. But this should send a message to the Government just how important the NHS is to the UK public, and that every effort must be made to keep our health service sustainable, to fund it properly, and ensure we have the workforce to deliver the care our patients need and deserve.

‘This should be at the forefront of the Government’s mind during Brexit negotiations.’

In full: What impact do you think the triggering of Article 50 will have on…

The NHS budget

Negative impact 39% (GPs: 45%)

No impact: 26% (GPs: 25%)

Positive impact: 10% (GPs: 7%)

Unsure: 25% (GPs: 23%)

Number of GPs working in the NHS

Negative impact: 51% (GPs: 61%)

No impact: 25% (GPs: 22%)

Positive impact: 3% (GPs: 2%)

Unsure: 20% (GPs: 15%)

Number of nurses working in the NHS

Negative impact: 58% (GPs: 68%)

No impact: 21% (GPs: 16%)

Positive impact: 3% (GPs 2%)

Unsure: 18% (GPs: 14%)

Number of other primary care staff working in the NHS

Negative impact: 50% (GPs: 60%)

No impact: 26% (GPs: 20%)

Positive impact: 3% (GPs: 2%)

Unsure: 21% (GPs: 18%)

Time spent by staff assessing patient eligibility for NHS care

Negative impact: 46% (GPs: 52%)

No impact: 18% (GPs: 16%)

Positive impact: 10% (GPs: 9%)

Unsure: 26% (GPs: 23%)

Time spent by staff assessing patient eligibility for NHS care

Negative impact: 21% (GPs: 21%)

No impact: 32% (GPs: 35%)

Positive impact: 18% (GPs: 17%)

Unsure: 29% (GPs: 26%)

The survey was answered by 1,734 primary care staff. They included: 747 GPs, 564 nurses, 255 GP practice managers, 66 commissioners and 16 health visitors/ midwives.

The survey was distributed to subscribers of The Commissioning Review, Management in Practice, Nursing in Practice and Pulse between 10 August 2016 and 21 September 2016. Respondents who were not currently working as healthcare professionals due to e.g. retirement, or who worked abroad, were excluded.