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Grant EU doctors permanent residence now, BMA urges government

Remove uncertainties to control impact of Brexit on patient care, it says

Caroline White

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Following the triggering of Article 50 today, signalling the UK’s departure from the European Union, the BMA has called on the government to grant permanent residence to European doctors working in the UK as soon as possible, to control the impact of Brexit on the NHS and protect patient care.

Around 10,000 doctors working in the NHS qualified in the European Economic Area (EEA), representing 7% of the workforce, with even higher proportions working in public health and academic medicine, says the BMA.

After the EU referendum last June, four in ten (42%) of these doctors told the BMA that they were considering leaving the UK.

Recruiting from Europe 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, it says.

Not only should permanent residence be granted to EEA doctors working in the UK, but the government must guarantee that any future immigration system is flexible enough to ensure that sufficient numbers of doctors are recruited and retained in the NHS, says the BMA.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, commented: “While Theresa May says ‘Brexit means Brexit’, for the thousands of European doctors working in the UK, all it means is uncertainty as to whether they and their families will have the right to stay here.”

He pointed out that if those EEA doctors considering leaving the UK did so, this “would seriously impact patient care across the country and only increase what are often already unacceptable delays for treatment.”

He added: “It won’t be a case of losing doctors from the EEA and replacing them 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, with figures today showing that the number of GPs in England is falling. Losing EEA doctors from the workforce will only make this worse.”

He said that the chief Brexit negotiator for the European Commission has stated that EEA staff working in the NHS should be protected, and any uncertainties around their status eliminated.

“Now that Article 50 has been triggered, 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,” he insisted.

Dr Anna Huette, a German GP trainee working in Cornwall, added that she feels “left in limbo, not knowing whether and under which conditions I will be allowed to live and work here,” since the vote to leave the EU.

“I feel I have no choice but to get the appropriate accreditation in Germany as soon as I complete my GP training just in case, in order to assess my future when we have seen what happens to the UK and the NHS in the coming months,” she said.

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