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Four in ten European doctors consider leaving the UK

BMA survey reveals perilous state of UK healthcare post Brexit

Mark Gould

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The BMA says the future of UK health care at risk as a survey reveals that more than four in ten European doctors are considering leaving the UK following the Brexit vote.

Around 10,000 doctors who work in the NHS – 6.6% of the UK medical workforce - qualified in the European Economic Area (EEA) with many more working in public health and academic medicine.

The BMA survey of 1,193 EEA doctors working in the UK, found that:

  • 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.

Since the vote to leave the EU, the BMA has been calling on the government to ensure long-term stability for health services in the UK.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA Council chair, 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.”

Staff shortages are worsening across the UK. Recent figures show that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the number of doctor vacancies increased by around 60% between 2013 and 2015.

Dr Birgit Woolley, originally from Germany, has been a GP in the UK for 20 years and also volunteers as a counsellor for a local charity.

She said: “Since the EU referendum I feel increasingly uncertain about my future here, and am considering returning to Germany. It is unsettling that in a country that 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, 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.”

Professor Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said the survey showed that the government, the NHS and the public needed to value and support all NHS staff, wherever they are from.

She said: "Currently a quarter of NHS doctors are from overseas, and the NHS has benefitted 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. Diseases know no country borders, and medicine is an international profession, with global cooperation in research, drug development, standards of patient care, and free movement of doctors around the world. This model has served the UK and the NHS well for decades – moving away from that model is a major risk to the success of the NHS."

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