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Stop using EEA doctors as political pawns in Brexit talks

Replacing EEA doctors with British doctors will take at least 10 years, warns BMA

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 06 September 2017

The government must urgently set out the specifics of its intended immigration policy and stop using doctors from the European Economic Area (EEA) as political pawns in Brexit negotiations, the BMA insisted this morning. It argued that EEA workers are vital to helping the UK deal with staff shortages in health and social care, and warned that losing them from the NHS workforce will only exacerbate crippling understaffing in an NHS already “at breaking point”.

The BMA said a leaked Home Office document on Brexit suggests that free movement will end when the UK exits the European Union in March 2019 and that the UK will adopt a “more selective approach” to immigration. It warned that as well as worrying those thousands of European doctors and other NHS staff currently working in the UK, the leaked document could have serious negative consequences for NHS staff shortages and patient care.

BMA treasurer Dr Andrew Dearden said: “More than a year has passed since the referendum yet the government has failed to produce any detail on what the future holds for EU citizens and their families living in the UK. Hardline immigration restrictions that affect NHS workers would seriously impact patient care across the country and only increase what are often already unacceptable delays for assessment and treatment.

“It would also be a huge mistake to restrict the pool for recruiting NHS staff from outside the UK. A future immigration system should remain flexible enough to ensure the recruitment and retention of sufficient doctors and other NHS workers. Recruiting from the EEA has been vital in dealing with staff shortages in health and social care, and the NHS is dependent on EEA workers to provide a high-quality, reliable and safe service to patients.”

Dr Dearden warned that it could take a decade or more to replace EEA doctors in the workforce, exacerbating current shortages. He said: “It won’t be a case of losing doctors from the EEA and replacing them immediately with British doctors – it takes at least 10 years to train a doctor, and poor workforce planning by the government means we simply don’t have enough for the number of patients in need. The NHS is at breaking point and already cripplingly understaffed in many areas such as A&E and general practice. Losing EEA doctors from the workforce will only make this worse.

“The government should urgently set out the specifics of its intended immigration policy to end the uncertainty. It is vital for the stability and future of health care and medical research that the government grants EEA doctors working in the NHS permanent residence, rather than using them as political pawns in negotiations.”

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