Flexibility on immigration post-Brexit vital for NHS workforce, says BMA

The post-Brexit UK immigration system must retain flexibility to allow the NHS to recruit doctors and nurses from overseas, the BMA has warned, as the government announced a study on migration.

Home secretary Amber Rudd has asked the Migration Advisory Committee to report on 'the role EU nationals play in the UK economy and society'.

The committee will be asked to 'examine the British labour market, the overall role of migration in the wider economy and how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy'.

GP leaders have long warned of the impact that leaving the EU could have on the NHS workforce, with the RCGP calling on all political parties to guarantee the status of EU-trained GPs working in the UK ahead of the general election earlier this year.

NHS workforce

A BMA poll published in February found that more than 4,000 EU doctors working in the NHS - almost to 3% of the medical workforce - could quit the UK because of Brexit.

BMA treasurer Dr Andrew Dearden said the report was 'long overdue' and pointed out that its findings would emerge 'only months before the UK leaves the EU'.

He said: 'EU nationals play an invaluable role in health and social care in the UK, and have been vital in addressing the staff shortages seen across the NHS. Put simply, our already over-stretched health service would not be able to cope without them and patient care would inevitably suffer.

'Seven in 10 hospital doctors are already reporting rota gaps in their departments while almost half of GPs have reported GP vacancies where they work. We know that non-UK workers have already begun to leave the NHS following the referendum, making effective transitional arrangements post-Brexit absolutely vital.

GP vacancies

'To protect the future of the NHS, the government must work with health organisations to ensure that the immigration system remains flexible enough to recruit doctors and other NHS staff from overseas, especially where the resident workforce is unable to produce enough suitable applicants to fill vacant roles.'

Ms Rudd said: 'The study I am asking the Migration Advisory Committee to complete is a major step in ensuring we create a system that works in the best interests of the country.'

She added that there would be an implementation period when the UK leaves the EU to avoid a ‘cliff edge’ for employers or EU nationals in the UK.

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