Government must guarantee rights of EU NHS staff post-Brexit, says BMA

The BMA has urged prime minister Theresa May to guarantee the rights of EU nationals currently working in Britain 'as soon as possible' to preserve the NHS after she unveiled her negotiating priorities for Brexit.

BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter
BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter

More than 10,000 doctors from the European Economic Area (EEA) currently work in the NHS. BMA chairman Dr Mark Porter said it was 'vital for the stability of the NHS and the future of medical research that the government removes the ongoing uncertainty and grants them permanent residence.'

Dr Porter warned that the NHS was 'struggling to cope' amid significant staff shortages, which could be compounded if caps are placed on EU workers in the wake of Brexit. He also urged the government to retain EU regulations that protect doctors from working excessively long hours.

On Tuesday, Ms May confirmed the government’s intention to leave the European single market, thereby allowing Britain to take back control of the number of people coming into Britain from the EU.

The prime minister said: ‘We will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain – indeed openness to international talent must remain one of this country’s most distinctive assets.

‘But that process must be managed properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest. So we will get control of the number of people coming to Britain from the EU.’

However, the BMA said that any additional limits on the number of doctors able to work in the UK would lead to further staff shortages in the NHS. 

Dr Porter said that firmer restrictions for non-EU workers, which were previously introduced, had resulted in ‘severe nursing shortages’, culminating in the profession eventually being made exempt from the caps.

Brexit negotiations

A recent GPonline analysis showed that up to two-thirds of the GP workforce qualified outside of the UK in some CCG areas, with over 10% qualifying in EEA countries overall.

Dr Porter said: ‘At a time when the NHS is struggling to cope with mounting pressures and significant staff shortages, the prime minister must deliver on her promise to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in Britain, and Britons living in Europe, as soon as possible.

‘Any further limits on the number of doctors able to work in the UK will only serve to worsen staff shortages seen across the NHS. The immigration system must remain flexible enough to recruit doctors from overseas, especially where the UK workforce is unable to fill vacant roles.

‘Over the past few weeks, we have seen doctors and NHS staff going above and beyond to cope with the pressures facing the NHS, often working hours over shift to help provide care for patients.

‘As pressures continue to grow, it is vital that the current EU regulations which protect doctors from overwork, and protect patients from overtired doctors, are preserved and not repealed or limited in any way for new workers.’

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