BMA leaders warned that an exodus of European doctors from the NHS on this scale could threaten the future of the health service.
The BMA survey, which gauged the opinion of almost 1,200 doctors trained in the European Economic Area (EEA) who work in the UK, found that 42% are now considering leaving following the referendum vote, while a further 23% are unsure.
EEA doctors said the outcome had significantly impacted on their morale, with the average self-reported rating for ‘feeling appreciated by the UK government’ dropping from seven out of 10 to less than four out of 10 after the referendum.
Around 10,000 doctors who work in the NHS – totalling around 6.6% of the UK medical workforce – qualified in the EEA, alongside ‘many more’ working in public health and academic medicine.
Brexit NHS impact
Around 1,296 GPs working in England qualified in the EEA, with more than one in 10 in some CCG areas from the region.
EEA doctors also said they felt more despondent about working in the UK following the result, with the average rating for ‘commitment to working in the UK’ dropping from nine out of 10 to six out of 10.
The BMA has insisted that the government ensures any future immigration system is flexible enough to allow doctors to continue to be employed, in order to maintain the long-term stability of the NHS.
BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter 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.
‘These are the people who staff our hospitals and GP surgeries, look after vulnerable patients in the community, and conduct vital medical research to help save lives. Many have dedicated years of service to healthcare in the UK, so it’s extremely concerning that so many are considering leaving.
‘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.’
UK health care ‘at risk’
Dr Birgit Woolley, a GP originally from Germany, has worked in the UK for 20 years. She said she felt ‘increasingly uncertain’ about her future in the UK, and was now considering returning to her homeland in the wake of the referendum.
‘It is unsettling that in a country that I have contributed to for 20 years and consider home, I am now seen as a foreigner and have to prove that I deserve to live and work here,’ she said.
‘I feel supported by my patients, with even those that voted leave telling me “You can stay because you’re a doctor. We like you. We didn’t mean you.” But the reality is that the government does not appreciate what EU nationals like me have contributed to the UK, and only sees us as bargaining chips.’
BMA Scotland chairman Dr Peter Bennie said: ‘This survey should set alarm bells ringing in government. It shows just how much damage is being done by the needless and continuing uncertainty over the future status of European doctors who already work in our NHS.
‘We should be in no doubt that the scale of the recruitment and retention difficulties that Scotland’s NHS is facing would be made exponentially worse without the contribution of European doctors.’
A DH spokeswoman said: ‘As the government has repeatedly made clear, overseas workers form a crucial part of our NHS and we value their contribution immensely.
‘We want to see the outstanding work of doctors and nurses who are already trained overseas continue, but at the same time we have been very clear that we want to give more domestic students the chance to be doctors, given the enduring popularity of this as a career.’