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Warning Brexit may damage UK research and healthcare

Immigration restriction post-Brexit may cause damage, says study

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 11 October 2018

A study into European doctors and scientists working in the UK has concluded that Brexit and changes to immigration rules could significantly damage UK research and healthcare.

The research*, published today by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, was carried out by a team from King’s College London and Queen’s University Belfast.

The researchers carried out an analysis of senior European scientists and doctors working in the UK, examining how many European individuals had been elected as fellows of the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences – bodies that recognise people who have excelled in their respective fields and contributed much to high-level UK science and research.

They measured this over two time periods – 1952-1992 and 1993-2015.

For the study, the researchers also examined the UK medical register to identify European doctors working in senior positions as hospital consultants and GPs in the UK, measured over decades of qualification.

Their analysis confirmed a significant increase in the numbers of UK-based fellows of the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences from European countries since the Maastricht treaty was signed in 1992.

Percentages of European fellows of the Royal Society increased from 0.8% (1952-1992) (the year the UK signed the Maastricht treaty) to 4.3% (1993–2015).

For fellows of the Academy of Medical Sciences, percentages increased from 2.6% (pre-1992) to 8.9% (post-1992).

They also established that since 2004, doctors from European countries are the largest cohort of foreign-qualified practitioners in the UK, with Eastern European doctors predominating during the last decade.

In the 1970s, only 6% of doctors were trained in the EU, but the proportion increased to 11% in the last two decades.

Europeans replaced South Asians as the main immigrant group. Among these, doctors from the Czech Republic, Greece, Poland and Romania made the largest contribution.

Lead researcher and King’s College London academic Mursheda Begum said: “Our results indicate a very positive and statistically significant contribution of European scientists, academics and medical practitioners to the UK research base and the provision of clinical care.

“Many immigrants have built strong careers that have been rewarded by prestigious fellowships because they have impacted positively on UK research.”

Co-author Professor Richard Sullivan added: “With the UK now officially in the process of leaving the EU, there are concerns about how this will affect NHS services and patient care, health research and international cooperation.

“It is distinctly possible that uncertainty about the ability of European citizens to work in the NHS may lead to a staffing crisis, as they seek work elsewhere. Medical specialties with a heavy reliance on EU nationals, such as general surgery and ophthalmology, and nursing are likely to be seriously affected.

“Our study clearly demonstrates the positive contribution by scientists and medical doctors from European countries to high-level research and clinical care in the UK. It is vital that national diversity in high-quality human capital is maintained in a post-Brexit UK research and healthcare environment.”


*Begum M, Lewison G, Lawler M and Sullivan R. The value of European immigration for high-level UK research and clinical care: cross-sectional study. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. DOI:10.1177/0141076818803427.

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