Intended for healthcare professionals


Government recognises contribution of EU workers to the NHS, says health minister

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: (Published 20 March 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j1404
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. BMJ Careers
  1. arimmer{at}


NHS workers from the EU are valued by the government, the minister of state for health has said

The government recognises the contribution made to the NHS by workers from the European Union, the minister of state for health has said.

Speaking at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) annual conference in Manchester last week, Philip Dunne said that EU citizens working in the NHS needed reassurance after the UK’s vote to leave the union, and he wanted to assure them that the contribution they make is recognised and valued by the government.

“The government recognises the significant, positive contribution that EU workers are making to our health and social care systems and that’s why the prime minister has made securing the rights of EU nationals one of the key principles in the recent white paper on exiting the EU,” Dunne said.

“A whole chapter of the white paper was dedicated to this issue. It makes clear that securing the status of EU nationals is a priority for the negotiations once Article 50 is triggered.”

Also speaking at the conference, Jane Dacre, president of the RCP, said that it would be a tragedy if EU workers decided to leave the NHS. “Earlier research showed that significant numbers of our European colleagues were feeling at best unsettled and at worst were planning to leave the UK in the next couple of years,” Dacre said.

“That would be a tragedy. We need the government to provide reassurance that we will be able to keep all of our colleagues; our international medical graduate colleagues and our European colleagues in the NHS and in research.”

She added, “There is a lot of talk about home grown doctors but we will not be able to replace the expertise of EU doctors with those who are home grown for many years to come—if ever.”

During his speech to the conference, Dunne discussed the government’s plan to expand medical student places by 25%.1 “Last autumn we also took the bold and frankly expensive decision to increase our supply of home grown doctors by up to 1500 places each year, the biggest such single increase in the history of the NHS,” he said.

Dunne said that a key aim of the expansion of places was to “widen participation and increase social mobility, providing more opportunities for people to study medicine regardless of race, ethnicity, or background.” He added, “We’re making an initial increase of 500 additional places across existing medical schools from September next year.”

Dunne referred to a consultation launched last week on how the additional medical school places would be allocated as “controversial.”2 The proposals could see doctors being required to work in the NHS for at least five years after completion of their training.

“We’re taking the opportunity to seek views on ensuring the return for the taxpayer on the investment in the education of our doctors,” Dunne said. “Perhaps by expecting doctors to work in the NHS for a few years after graduating—which I am sure will be controversial but already applies to other areas of the public sector, specifically the armed forces where it is widely accepted.”

Dunne, who previously worked in the Ministry of Defence, also compared the NHS with the military in terms of its leadership culture. He said that, as in the armed forces, more frontline staff, such as doctors, should aim to become senior leaders in the NHS.

“The entire ethos of the armed forces is predicated on developing leadership skill. The NHS needs excellent leaders at every level,” Dunne said. “We know that hospitals that are well led are also more likely to be more productive, report lower levels of bullying and harassment, and provide better care. Some of the most experienced and knowledgeable leaders in the NHS are clinicians but frankly there are far too few undertaking leadership roles and I think we need to change the culture to encourage you to do that.”

He added, “That’s why we’re investing in doctors, nurses, midwives, and allied health professionals who want to take an active role in their organisations. If you think about the armed forces, the entire structure rests on their ability to deliver leaders from within.”