A total of 71% of 380 GPs who responded within 24 hours to a GPonline poll on Wednesday said the UK should remain part of the EU. One in five (20%) backed the UK leaving the EU, while 8% were undecided and 1% did not wish to say how they would vote.
More than half of respondents (53%) said they believed a decision to quit the EU would have a negative effect on the NHS. Just 14% said Brexit would benefit the health service, while 18% felt it would have no impact, and a further 15% were unsure.
In a separate poll by Network Locum, an online community for locum GPs, 85% of 70 respondents said the UK should remain, while just 13% backed Brexit.
But a third poll, of practice managers, found far higher support for leaving the EU than among GPs. Of 408 GP practice managers who responded to a Practice Index Forum survey, 49% backed leaving the EU, with 43% backing a 'remain' vote and 8% undecided.
Vote Leave campaigners have claimed that UK financial contributions to the EU are enough to build a new NHS hospital every week, and that quitting the union could free up money for public services.
But the claims have sparked outrage from leading healthcare unions including Unite, which says the idea that Brexit would benefit the NHS is insulting to voters and those who work in or use the health service. Conservative MP for Totnes, former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston, recently abandoned the Brexit camp, calling its suggestions that the NHS would benefit financially from the move 'shameful'.
Former Conservative MP and current NHS Confederation chairman Stephen Dorrell argued in a major speech earlier this month that the likelihood of significant problems for the UK economy in the event of a vote to leave the EU would make it far harder to provide sustainable funding for the NHS.
Vote leave campaigner and Conservative MP John Redwood, however, said earlier this month on the BBC's Today programme that he believed the UK would save money by leaving the EU, and some of that could be invested in the NHS.
One GP backing Brexit who responded to the GPonline poll wrote: 'Need to take back control of our country.' Another expressed concern about 'unskilled migrants' coming to the UK.
But a GP who planned to vote to remain in the EU said: 'We are stronger as part of a union. We benefit from immigration.'
Another said the risks were far greater from leaving than from remaining in the EU, while a third GP said: 'I cant see any reason apart from racism/xenophobia for wanting to leave.'
One GP said she was voting remain 'mainly for personal reasons'. 'I'm married to a Frenchman, many friends and work colleagues from EU states and I think we really benefit from their input. Have many EU patients in my practice but they are usually all working and contributing more to society than a lot of 'Brits' so I disagree with a lot of the Leave campaign comments! Also believe research etc stronger within EU.'
London GP Dr Hamed Khan, who took part in the Network Locum poll, said: 'Remain - the so called ''burden'' of immigration is far overstated by the leave camp. Most EU migrants who I see are young and work, and probably contribute far more in tax when compared to the NHS resources that they use. In addition around 30,000 doctors and nurses from the EU work in the NHS.'
Practice manager Virginia Patania also backed remaining in the EU: 'This is not only about Britain - it's about the collective good of Europe, and our roles and responsibilities in ensuring the highest levels of wellbeing across our continent. Leaving is anachronistic, irresponsible, and borderline unethical.'