Will European doctors leave the NHS because of Brexit?

The majority of European doctors working in the UK are considering leaving the country because of Brexit, a survey by the General Medical Council (GMC) has found. Thousands could leave in the next two years, plunging the NHS into a fresh staffing crisis.

The doctors’ disciplinary body surveyed 2115 doctors from the European Economic Area (EEA), comprising the EU nations plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, and found that 1171 (55%) were thinking of leaving the UK.

EU or EEA nationals account for about 10 200 – or roughly 9% – of NHS doctors, according to NHS Digital statistics.

Of the doctors who were thinking of leaving, 45% said they were considering a departure in the next two years, with 24% thinking about leaving in the next three to five years.

More than 1000 doctors added comments telling the GMC how they felt about Brexit and the impact on their jobs. The GMC said two common themes emerged: the emotional impact of Brexit – with many doctors saying they felt unwanted and demoralised – and uncertainty about their future residence status. Such uncertainty is unlikely to have been helped by Theresa May’s ongoing refusal to confirm the rights of EU nationals to stay in the UK after Brexit.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Can the NHS withstand such an exodus?

Comments (17) Add yours ↓
  1. Matthew Bultitude Consultant Urologist

    Clearly the NHS could not withstand such an exodus. It is short staffed enough as it is. However one suspects that when the dust settles a bit and both sides start talks on the separation, the future of UK citizens abroad and EU citizens here will be one of the priorities and that both sides will be protected and given equal rights. Definitely uncertain times ahead though …

    March 4, 2017 Reply
  2. Su-Min Lee ST3 Urology

    The impact on Brexit on the NHS is worrying indeed, and anyone who has attended hospital has been helped not just EU doctors, but all NHS staff. A loss of this working force would be unteneble considering the shortages we are already facing.

    As an immigrant myself (Canada), I have been through all the bureacracy of the UK immigration system and challenges of obtaining a visa. This comes despite the fact that I was a graduate of a UK medical school and graduating international students are given some extent of visa protection (for the first few years).

    I do hope that the process is made easier for the EU doctors/staff already working within this country. It is a bit reassuring that parliament voted in favour of protecting existing rights of EU workers, but is this enough?

    March 4, 2017 Reply
  3. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    BMA council chair Mark Porter has warned that retaining EU staff is essential to ensuring safe and sustainable provision of care in the UK, in the wake of alarming findings concerning the morale of European doctors.

    He said: ‘While thousands of overseas and EU doctors work across the UK to provide the best possible care for patients, many from the EU are left feeling unwelcome and uncertain about whether they and their families will have the right to live and work in the UK after Brexit.

    ‘The Government must act now to ensure long-term stability across the healthcare system by providing certainty to medical professionals from the EU about their future in the UK.

    ‘It must also ensure that a future immigration system allows the NHS to continue employing EU and overseas doctors to fill staff shortages in the health service.’

    The BMA’s findings come in the same week that health leaders warned MPs that Brexit was having an impact on the morale and outlook of some EU staff working across the UK’s health and social care sectors.

    March 5, 2017 Reply
  4. Ian Eardley Consultant Urologist

    We need to do our best to support our European colleagues or else the current staffing crisis within the NHS will only get worse. It is salutary that nearly 40% of the doctors on the specialist register trained outside the UK. Clearly we are an attractive place to come to work (generally speaking the NHS pays some of the best salaries in Europe for doctors), but it is worrying that we need this number of overseas trainees to come to the UK to keep the service afloat. The extra 1500 places in medical school can’t come a moment too soon, but it will be over 10 years before we see those increased places translating into NHS consultants.

    March 6, 2017 Reply
  5. Peter Rimington Consultant Urologist

    We certainly cant afford to lose our European trained colleagues from the NHS. Hopefully today marks the start of negotiations on BREXIT for real as Parliament triggers Article 51. And again hopefully the Prime Minister or the Health secretary will make a more certain announcement about the future of European workers already in the UK, not just in The medical profession but Nursing and Allied professions in particular as well. Their figures for recruitment and retaining staff are even more frightening and I fear that patient safety is going to be even more knife edge than it was this winter.
    Perhaps if the powers that be were also to realise that salaries in the UK, whilst attractive for Europeans, have not kept pace with inflation for some years now and an increase may just keep some of our own home trained doctors from leaving for sunnier Antipodean climes.

    March 14, 2017 Reply
  6. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    NHS nurses from EU countries are quitting their jobs in record numbers, causing critics to warn that Theresa May is making the NHS staffing crisis worse by refusing to guarantee the rights of European citizens.

    The figures have prompted calls for a so-called “NHS passport” to be offered to the 59,000 public sector healthcare workers from the EU, along with demands for the Government to immediately reinstate the nursing bursary scrapped this year.

    Almost 2,700 EU nurses handed in their resignation letters in 2016, compared to 1,600 in 2014 – a jump of 68 per cent, according to freedom of information requests filed by the Liberal Democrats. In total, some 6,433 EU nationals quit the NHS in 2016, up from 5,135 in 2014, responses from 80 of the 136 NHS acute trusts showed.

    Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said there had been a 92 per cent drop in the number of EU citizens working as nurses – from 1,261 nurses in the month after the referendum to just 96 in December. According to the organisation, 24,000 nursing positions in the NHS were unfilled. The Government has said it would like to offer the three million EU citizens residing in the UK the right to remain, but has refused to assure them of their status, claiming doing so would lose the UK “negotiating capital”.

    March 19, 2017 Reply
  7. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    Some sections of the media are referring to yesterday as Britain’s ‘independence day’. Whatever your views on prime minister Theresa May today formally beginning the process of exit from the European Union, the predominant feeling in the health service may be that we are more dependent than ever on politicians – and them giving the NHS the clarity it so desperately needs.

    We are left with a profound and gnawing uncertainty – felt most acutely, of course, by our European colleagues, but also by the whole of a health service that would collapse without their contribution. Around 22,000 GMC-registered doctors with a licence to practise obtained their qualification from another European Economic Area (EEA) country, and more than half work in the NHS.

    March 30, 2017 Reply
  8. Pandher Dr

    I personally feel we need to take a step back from all the emotions.
    For argument sake if EU doctors do decide to leave and this must be the premise for future planning, then I would suggest that our experienced drs who have done or nearing their training should be given the opportunity to become ‘junior consultants’ whilst being mentored by seniors and after a period of 2 or another defined period will be given a full consultant status.

    May 3, 2017 Reply
  9. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    The number of European nurses registering to work in the UK has plummeted by 96 per cent since the EU referendum last June, prompting critics to warn Brexit has caused an “unforgivable drain of talent” in the health sector.

    Just 46 nurses from EU countries registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in April 2017, compared with 1,304 in July 2016, according to figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the Health Foundation.

    The monthly statistics show the number of nurses registering with the NMC peaked in July 2016 at 1,304, before undergoing a steep decline — falling to just 244 in the two months until September, and down to 46 by April 2017.

    June 13, 2017 Reply
  10. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    Confidential cabinet papers reveal serious splits at the heart of Government over Brexit, as Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was photographed entering No 10 Downing Street for yesterday’s cabinet meeting holding notes including the phrase: “Hard Brexit means people fleeing UK.”

    Mr Hunt’s notes are headed with the question: “What recent discussions have been had with Home Secretary on ensuring the NHS has the workforce it needs after UK leaves the EU?” In his answer, Mr Hunt states: “Hard Brexit means people fleeing UK.”

    Elsewhere in Mr Hunt’s notes are statistics on the number of EU nationals working in the NHS. They include 10,700 doctors, estimated at 9 per cent of the total. It also states that 2,200 doctors joined the NHS in the year up to March 2017. It states that 62,000 nurses are EU nationals, approximately 19 per cent of the total, 4,000 of whom joined the NHS in the year to March 2017.

    July 5, 2017 Reply
  11. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    AAlmost a million EU citizens working in Britain – many of them young, highly qualified and much sought-after by businesses – are either planning to leave the country or have already made up their minds to go as a result of Brexit, a study has found.

    A survey of 2,000 EU workers in Britain by KPMG, the professional services firm, found that 55% of those with PhDs and 49% of those with postgraduate degrees were either planning to go or were actively considering it.

    Based on its overall findings, KPMG estimated that a group equivalent to 3.1% of the national workforce – about a million people – now see their future in Britain as over or hanging in the balance. The main reasons given were that they felt “less welcome and valued” post-Brexit, that the UK “is no longer the place that attracted them” and that they are “pro-European and disagree with Brexit”.

    August 27, 2017 Reply
  12. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    AAlmost a million EU citizens working in Britain – many of them young, highly qualified and much sought-after by businesses – are either planning to leave the country or have already made up their minds to go as a result of Brexit, a study has found.

    A survey of 2,000 EU workers in Britain by KPMG, the professional services firm, found that 55% of those with PhDs and 49% of those with postgraduate degrees were either planning to go or were actively considering it.

    Based on its overall findings, KPMG estimated that a group equivalent to 3.1% of the national workforce – about a million people – now see their future in Britain as over or hanging in the balance. The main reasons given were that they felt “less welcome and valued” post-Brexit, that the UK “is no longer the place that attracted them” and that they are “pro-European and disagree with Brexit”.

    August 27, 2017 Reply
  13. Mark Tinsley Independent Blogger

    Dr Pandher’s advice about emotion is a good one.

    There are more EU nationals working in the NHS than ever before. Really. And not only are there more EU Nationals in the NHS than ever before, there are more since the Brexit vote.

    https://www.kingdomcomment.com/blog/2017/9/17/there-are-more-eu-nationals-working-in-the-nhs-than-ever-before-really

    September 18, 2017 Reply
  14. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    Around 10,000 EU nationals have quit the NHS since the Brexit referendum, it has emerged.

    NHS Digital, the agency that collects data on the health service, found that in the 12 months to June, 9,832 EU doctors, nurses and support staff had left, with more believed to have followed in the past three months.

    This is an increase of 22% on the previous year and up 42% on two years previously. Among those from the EU who left the NHS between June 2016 and June 2017 were 3,885 nurses and 1,794 doctors.

    September 22, 2017 Reply
  15. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    Brexit could have a “potentially catastrophic” impact on the NHS, the authors of a major new report have claimed as they warned they had no confidence the Government was in a position to address the consequences. Assessing three scenarios – “soft Brexit, hard Brexit, and failed Brexit” – the authors conclude in The Lancet medical journal that each poses a substantial threat to the NHS.

    Even a soft Brexit that retains access to the EU’s single market while restricting free movement is likely to have a big impact on health care, they claim.

    “The workforce of the NHS is heavily reliant on EU staff,” the authors write. “Financing of health care for UK citizens in the EU and visa versa is threatened, as is access to some capital funds, while Brexit threatens overall economic performance. Access to pharmaceuticals, technology, blood and organs is jeopardised.”

    In a withering critique, the researchers add that they have “no confidence” that Theresa May’s Government is yet in a position to address the consequences of Brexit on Britain’s health service, which they predict risks “overwhelming Parliament and the civil service”. They add: “The future is especially uncertain following the 2017 general election, which left the Government with a minority in Parliament. There are deep divisions with the Cabinet and we have no confidence that central Government is yet in a position to address the consequences for health.”

    September 29, 2017 Reply
  16. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    Legal protections ensuring that doctors do not breach limits on safe working hours could be eroded after the UK leaves the European Union, an employment expert has warned.

    Jason Heyes, professor of employment relations at Sheffield University, told a meeting discussing Brexit’s effect on healthcare that the European Union’s working time regulations, which ensure that doctors do not work for more than an average of 48 hours a week and guarantee rights such as rest breaks and holidays, might be targeted by a Conservative government when the UK leaves the EU.

    October 6, 2017 Reply
  17. Roger Kirby Professor of Urology

    The number of nurses employed by the NHS has fallen for the first time since April 2013, figures have revealed, following a steep drop in EU nationals registering as nurses since the Brexit vote. Analysis of data by the King’s Fund shows that there were fewer NHS nurses in post this summer than the previous summer, with 316,725 nurses in post in June 2017 – 703 fewer than the same month last year.

    A “significant” reduction in EU nurses joining the UK register since the EU referendum has been a key factor in the fall, as well as an increasing number of EU staff leaving the NHS and changes to language testing requirements, according to the analysis.

    The King’s Fund states that the number of NHS staff leaving as a result of ill-health and work-life balance has also increased sharply over the last few years, suggesting stress has been an additional cause.

    October 12, 2017 Reply

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