Almost one in five of the NHS’s European doctors have made plans to quit Britain, according to research that has raised fresh fears of a Brexit-induced medical brain drain.
And almost half of the health service’s 12,000 medics from the European Economic Area (EEA) are considering moving abroad, the British Medical Association survey of 1,720 of them found.
The findings come amid growing evidence that Brexit may exacerbate problems of understaffing in the NHS by making both retention and recruitment of EU staff more difficult. In September NHS figures showed that more than 10,000 staff from EU countries had quit since the Brexit vote. And the number of EU nurses coming to Britain has dropped by 89% in the last year, Nursing and Midwifery Council figures released this month showed.
Among those who were considering going elsewhere 39% – or 18% of the whole sample – have already made plans to leave. The 12,000 doctors from the EEA (the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) represent 7.7% of the NHS’s medical workforce.
Some of those leaving have been offered jobs abroad, while others are applying for posts overseas. Some have begun the process of seeking citizenship elsewhere, while others are having their qualifications validated so they can work in another country, the BMA 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,” said Dr Andrew Dearden, the BMA’s treasurer.
The Labour MP Darren Jones, a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign, said: “The British people were told last year that Brexit would boost the NHS by £350m a week. Now the evidence is piling up that it will break it instead.
“We all depend on the brilliant work done by doctors, nurses and other staff who come from the EU. There is no chance that we could replace their expertise if they continue to leave the UK.”
But the Department of Health said that figures released last week by the General Medical Council, showing a slight year-on-year rise in 2016-17 in the number of EEA doctors joining its medical register, showed the BMA’s findings were inaccurate.
“This survey does not stand up to scrutiny. In fact, there are actually more EU doctors working in the NHS since the EU referendum, more EU graduates joining the UK medical register and 3,193 more EU nationals working in the NHS overall,” a spokesperson said.