Brexit and the NHS – It’s not too late to save our Doctors


A few months ago, I published a piece about the impact of Brexit on NHS staffing throughout the UK. Now, we all know that Brexit can be a divisive subject, but it was interesting at the time to see the comments left by readers – whether you think Brexit is the best thing that has ever happened or a complete disaster for the country, we are all in agreement that we need to make sure the NHS and the wonderful doctors and nurses who come from all across Europe, are protected.

The decision on Brexit has been made and is yesterday’s news, so what matters is to focus on the really important issues – and ensuring that we lose neither the NHS nor the hard working and dedicated staff who make it work has to be right at the top of the agenda.

They’ve not left yet

An astonishing 60,000 NHS healthcare workers are from elsewhere in the EU, including 12,000 doctors. According to research carried out by the British Medical Association (BMA), almost half of them are considering leaving the UK, and 18 percent have made firm plans to go.

That’s 2,300 doctors with definite plans to up sticks and leave, and a further 3,200 seriously contemplating following them!

What is the government doing about it?

Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has been hitting the headlines in recent weeks with his calls to direct any “Brexit bonus” at the NHS. While this is all very laudable in its stated aims to reduce waiting lists through increased budgets, it once again misses the main point – how can the NHS deliver a better service if some of its finest clinical staff are disappearing to work in Germany, Spain or Australia instead?

Yet when it came to responding to the specific issues raised by the BMA’s findings, the Department of Health was more interested in challenging the figures than addressing the looming disaster that they imply.

The BMA has stood alongside a number of other NHS groups in demanding definitive assurances from the government, both regarding EU nationals’ right to remain and in terms of a streamlined system for medical staff to be able to come to the UK with minimal bureaucracy.

To date, those demands have gone unanswered. Most commentators agree that this is not because the government has any real issue with either of the above, but because it feels that agreeing to any such measures now will weaken its negotiating powers with the EU over the coming weeks and months.

Meanwhile, NHS staff continue to weigh up the options of either staying under the assumption that “everything will probably be OK,” or moving on to pastures new. Given that choice, is it really any surprise that many are deciding that a new life in the Australian sunshine makes lots of sense?

The role of EU medical staff in the NHS

Hospitals and GP surgeries across the country rely more than we might realise on skilled and experienced staff from the EU. The issue of those who are leaving is serious, but even if 5,000 were to up and leave, that would only be part of the problem. We also rely on the pipeline of trainee medical practitioners who will be the doctors and nurses of tomorrow. Traditionally, they come from all across the EU, but with the current uncertainty, why on earth would they choose to launch their careers in the UK when there are other options that present far more security, and often a nicer climate to boot?

If NHS staffing was at a comfortable level, the situation would not be such a serious one. In the grand scheme of things, 5,000 doctors is around four percent of the total number of doctors in the country. The problem is that they are already run ragged and the entire NHS is stretched to breaking point.

When you have that as a starting point, the effect of losing so many staff becomes enough to bring the entire service to its knees.

Figures released by the Nursing and Midwifery Council have shown the same trends as those issued by the BMA, only in even starker terms. The number of nurses and midwives choosing to come to the UK from elsewhere within the EU has slumped by an amazing 89 percent since the Brexit vote, while the number who are already here but have chosen to leave has risen by 67 percent.

Casting the net wider

One NHS trust has been forced to focus on recruiting medical staff from Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. Oxford University Hospitals Trust sent a delegation out to India on a recruitment drive earlier this year, in which they offered positions to 175 nurses. A similar trip to The Philippines, where there is an oversupply of nurses, is planned for next month.

This is certainly one solution, but it seems so unnecessary when there are qualified doctors and nurses already practicing here, who would be happy to remain as long as they were confident about their futures.

Working towards a successful NHS

At Hylton-Potts, we feel strongly about the NHS and the doctors, nurses, paramedics and other healthcare providers who work tirelessly and with such dedication. Despite the service being used as a political football, they still manage to provide healthcare to a level that is world class.

We are enormously proud of our long history in providing support to healthcare workers wherever they are from, and we will continue to be on hand in the uncertain weeks and months ahead.

If you or a loved one works in the NHS and you are worried about how the Brexit negotiations might affect your future, we will be pleased to help fight your corner. You can give us a call on 020 7381 8111, or email us at law@hylton-potts.com.

We would also be interested in receiving more of your comments on this important topic, which affects us all, so please leave them in the section below.