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EU workers must be guaranteed right to remain in the UK, says BMA

Failure to guarantee rights will worsen staff shortages in already struggling NHS

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The government must guarantee the rights of EU workers to remain in the UK permanently post Brexit to assure “the stability of the NHS and the future of medical research”, the BMA has warned.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Teresa May outlined some details of her Brexit strategy, which made it clear that there would be future restrictions on EU workers wanting to come to the UK and failed to provide assurance to EU nationals already here that they will be able to remain.

"The message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was clear: Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. And that is what we will deliver," she said.

During the referendum campaign, a "points-based" system, similar to that used in Australia, was suggested, but this model, which would involve applications being accepted on the basis of skills, has been rejected by May because it does not give the government enough control. An alternative proposal under consideration would require migrants to have a work permit before coming to work in the UK, with ministers able to prioritise different sectors.

In terms of the fate of EU citizens currently living in the UK, the government has repeatedly stated that the UK could not make commitments on the right of EU citizens to remain in the UK without securing a reciprocal deal for British citizens living abroad in Europe.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: “There are more than 10,000 doctors from the European Economic Area working in the NHS, so it is vital for the stability of the NHS and the future of medical research, that the government removes the ongoing uncertainty and grants them permanent residence.”

He warned that the NHS had already experienced the consequences of the stricter restrictions for non-EU workers in terms of severe nursing shortages, and nursing was then added to the list of occupations exempt from the cap.

“Any further limits on the number of doctors able to work in the UK will only serve to worsen staff shortages seen across the NHS. The immigration system must remain flexible enough to recruit doctors from overseas, especially where the UK workforce is unable to fill vacant roles,” he said.

“Over the past few weeks, we have seen doctors and NHS staff going above and beyond to cope with the pressures facing the NHS, often working hours over shift to help provide care for patients. As pressures continue to grow, it is vital that the current EU regulations which protect doctors from overwork, and protect patients from overtired doctors, are preserved and not repealed or limited in any way for new workers.”

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