Half of doctors from other EEA countries working in UK may leave, poll shows

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 14 November 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5273
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

Almost half of doctors from other European Economic Area countries working in the UK are considering leaving in the wake of the EU referendum result, with almost a fifth having already made solid plans to relocate, a BMA survey has found.

Healthcare leaders expressed deep concern at the results of the poll and urged the government to offer certainty to the estimated 12 000 EEA doctors working in the NHS, who make up 7.7% of the UK medical workforce.

The BMA said that recruitment from elsewhere in Europe had been a crucial means of dealing with staff shortages and warned that NHS services would struggle to cope with departure of staff on such a scale.

The poll, conducted between September 2017 and November 2017, received responses from 1720 EEA doctors working in the UK.

Forty five per cent said that since the referendum result they were considering leaving the UK. A further 29% said that they are unsure about whether to leave.

Of those considering leaving, 39% said that they had made plans to leave, meaning that 18% of the EEA doctors had made plans to leave the UK.

The top three reasons cited for considering leaving were the UK’s decision to leave the EU, a current negative attitude towards people from other EU countries working in the UK, and continuing uncertainty over future immigration rules.

More than three quarters (77%) of respondents said that a negative outcome to Brexit negotiations on citizens’ rights would make them more likely to consider leaving the UK.

Germany, Spain, and Australia were the top three countries to which doctors were considering moving.

Among the BMA’s key concerns in Brexit negotiations are protection of the long term stability of UK health services, permanent residence for doctors and medical researchers from other EU countries who are currently in the UK, and a flexible immigration system that supports UK health and medical research needs.

The association has also urged political leaders to ensure mutual recognition of professional qualifications and measures that protect patients’ safety, to maintain ongoing access to EU research programmes and research funding, and to consider the potentially disruptive effects of Brexit on Northern Ireland’s health service.

Commenting on the survey findings, Andrew Dearden, the BMA’s treasurer, said, “That so many EU doctors are actively planning to leave the UK is a cause for real concern. Many have dedicated years of service to the NHS and medical research in the UK, and without them our health service would not be able to cope.

“We need clarity on what the future holds for EU citizens and their families living in the UK and an end to the uncertainty and insecurity that could see many voting with their feet.”

Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said that the results were “deeply concerning.” She said, “International doctors play a vital role in the delivery of healthcare in the UK and are valued members of the workforce.

“Whilst we welcome the positive statements which have been made, we feel that government should provide guarantees that the UK is able to recruit and retain international doctors in the future.”

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