One in five European NHS doctors plan to quit UK following Brexit

Employers won’t be able to fill gaps with domestic recruitment, experts warn

Almost one in five qualified NHS doctors from the European Economic Area (EEA) have made firm plans to quit Britain following the Brexit vote, with many more thinking of leaving, a survey has revealed, raising fresh fears of a nationwide medical ‘brain drain’.

In the UK-wide survey of more than 1,700 doctors who gained their primary qualification in another European country, the British Medical Association (BMA) found that almost half (45 per cent) were considering leaving the UK following its exit from the EU, while 19 per cent had already arranged to move elsewhere for work.

The top three reasons cited by respondents for thinking about quitting the UK were the country’s decision to leave the EU, a perceived negative attitude toward EU workers in the UK, and continuing uncertainty over future immigration rules. The number of respondents considering moving elsewhere jumped three percentage points from a similar poll conducted by the BMA in February.

Danny Mortimer, co-convener of the Cavendish Coalition – a group seeking to support the post-Brexit staffing needs of the UK’s health and social care system – said EU citizens already living and working in the UK must be given firm assurances of their status.

"These new figures from the BMA are alarming, especially at a time when the NHS workforce is already under enormous pressure because of staff shortages, and impending winter difficulties are only going to exacerbate the problem,” he said. 

"We need to make sure the UK remains an attractive prospect for the brightest and best from the EEA, as we know we won't be able to fill gaps with domestic recruitment in the short to medium term. We must be able to continue recruiting from abroad, and firm assurances must be provided on guarantees for EU citizens already living and working in the UK.”

The 12,000 doctors from the EEA (the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) currently working in the UK represent 7.7 per cent of the NHS’s medical workforce, raising fears of a significant talent drain should more decide to leave. Commenting on the findings, Dr Andrew Dearden, BMA treasurer, said the number of EU doctors actively planning to leave the UK was a “real cause for concern”.

“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,” he said.

“It is also vital that any future immigration system is flexible enough to ensure the NHS can recruit and retain doctors and other NHS workers in sufficient numbers. Our NHS and patient care are all the richer for having a diverse workforce – it’s crucial we don’t lose valuable experience and expertise because of Brexit.”

The figures come after the release of a document sent to the European Commission last week, which outlined a new system allowing EU nationals to apply for ‘settled status’ following Brexit. This will allow lawful residence in the UK for most EU citizens who have been living in the country for five years, enabling them to prove their status and rights to UK authorities, employers and public service providers.