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Deprived areas set to lose GPs from Brexit impact, warns GP professor

An award-winning GP professor has warned against going down the route of a ‘hard Brexit’, saying that this would jeopardise general practice.

Professor Aneez Esmail, professor of general practice at the University of Manchester, director of the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (PSTRC) and a GP in Rusholme, Manchester, said he ‘fears for the future’ of the NHS if very strict immigration controls are instated by the UK.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Pulse’s sister title Healthcare Leader, Professor Esmail said: ‘I think that a hard Brexit would have an impact on general practice because it’s going to put quite strict immigration controls, but it will not only have an impact on EU doctors.

According to the professor, deprived areas stand to face the biggest losses.

He said: ‘If you look at deprived areas, they have the highest proportion of doctors who are from the EU or international medical graduates. The NHS is dependent on medical immigration to make it function, both from Europe, the sub-continent, and former-areas of the Commonwealth.’

‘I fear what could happen if foreign GPs working in deprived areas start thinking, “What’s the point?” And they will leave those areas, with no one stepping up to replace them,’ he added.

Professor Esmail  pointed out that the NHS is not just a ‘national health service’ but ‘also an international health service’, which is reliant on migrant workers.

Commenting on the risks attached to Brexit, he said: ‘The NHS is probably the largest employer of ethnic minorities, and many of the ethnic minorities come from abroad. It is the way the NHS has chosen to function, and I fear for its future if we go down that route.’

Professor Esmail last year won the lifetime achievement award at the General Practice Awards for his work campaigning for general practice equality. Read more about his thoughts on progress made on eliminating NHS racism on Healthcare Leader.

His comments come as the GP workforce in England is continuing to decline, despite ambitious targets set by the Government.

Yesterday, NHS England announced a £10m fund for local areas trying to retain GPs – including those who are recently qualified – from leaving the profession.