Brexit Shadows Over Patient Care in the UK

Junior doctors working with the NHS on strike in London (File)


Who will take care of the Brexit fall out on ailing NHS? Is there any strategy? With the NHS at breaking point and facing crippling staff shortages in many areas, losing more doctors through Brexit would seriously impact patient care….writes Dr Kailash Chand

Junior doctors working with the NHS on strike in London (File)

Official data from NHS Digital shows a decline of 445 FTE (Full time equivalent) GPs, including registrars, locums and retainers, between 30 September and 31 December, from 34,495 to 34,050. The situation in other crafts of the NHS is no better.

Brexit is set to cause a severe shortage of nurses in the NHS too, which is already facing a chronic lack of them in many hospitals. Whatever form Brexit eventually takes, it could well lead to a reduced supply of medical personnel from the EU. We are sitting on the time bomb of recruitment and retention crisis in the NHS.

One of the NHS’s biggest questions since the referendum has been what will happen to the NHS’s many staff including GPs from EU countries after Brexit. The BMA warns, the news of shrinking full-time GP numbers comes at a time of ‘uncertainty’ as the UK triggered Article 50 to start the process of leaving the EU on Wednesday – threatening an exodus of doctors.

Mark Porter, chair of the BMA council, said: “While Theresa May says Brexit means Brexit, for the thousands of European doctors working in the UK all it means is uncertainty as to whether they and their families will have the right to stay here…’It won’t be a case of losing doctors from the EEA and replacing them with British doctors – it takes at least 10 years to train a doctor, and poor workforce planning by the Government means we simply don’t have enough for the number of patients in need.

Dr Kailash Chand, Deputy Chairman of British Medical Association, with striking junior doctors in Manchester (File)

Having triggered Article 50, the Prime Minster must now do everything in her power to control the impact of Brexit on the NHS and protect patient care across the country by granting permanent residence to EEA nationals working in the UK.

European doctors are vital to the NHS in the North West, many have lived here for years and are not just NHS workers but valuable members of our communities. We should recognise the valuable contribution they make by protecting their right to remain and to work in the UK rather than placing them and their families in a position where they are facing an uncertain future. Worryingly, a recent BMA survey found that four in ten EEA doctors working in the UK are considering leaving following Brexit.  With the NHS at breaking point and facing crippling staff shortages in many areas, losing more doctors would seriously impact patient care.

This decision not only impacts the numbers of doctors and health care staff in our NHS, we will also risk losing skilled researchers who are vital to the future of medical advancement in this country. To protect patient care, it is absolutely vital that the government grants EEA doctors working in the NHS permanent residence; the stability and future of our NHS depends upon it.

 (Dr Kailash Chand OBE is Chair of Healthwatch Tameside and a former deputy chair BMA council)