Medical representatives are calling on the government to grant permanent residence to European doctors working in the UK as soon as possible, following the triggering of Article 50.
Brexit could have a significant impact on the NHS, if European doctors and nurses decided to return to their countries of origin.
Around 10,000 doctors working in the NHS qualified in the European Economic Area (EEA) – 7% of the workforce – with more working in public health and academic medicine.
The BMA has been calling on the government to protect future medical research and ensure long-term stability for the NHS by granting permanent residence to EEA doctors working in the UK.
The Cavendish Coalition, an advisory group of 34 social care and health organisations, is also calling for guarantees that a future immigration system will be flexible enough to ensure the recruitment and retention of sufficient doctors in the NHS.
It also wants a responsive transitional system for people from the EEA during the period between any ‘cut off’ date after which EU nationals coming to live and work in the EU will not be guaranteed leave to remain and having a new and operational immigration system.
Recruiting staff from Europe has been vital in dealing with staff shortages in health and social care. In light of the EU referendum, 42% of EEA doctors working in the UK, told the BMA that they were considering leaving.
Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, warned that losing European doctors will only make the NHS’s current challenges even worse.
He said: “While Theresa May says Brexit means Brexit, for the thousands of European doctors working in the UK all it means is uncertainty as to whether they and their families will have the right to stay here.
“Almost half of the 10,000 EEA doctors working in the NHS are considering leaving the UK in light of the referendum, which would seriously impact patient care across the country and only increase what are often already unacceptable delays for treatment.
“Now that Article 50 has been triggered, it is vital for the stability and future of health care and medical research that the government grants EEA doctors working in the NHS permanent residence, rather than using them as political pawns in negotiations.”
Cavendish Coalition co-convener Danny Mortimer said: “It is absolutely critical that the Government takes all possible measures to safeguard the supply of health and social care workers needed to continue delivering safe, high quality care.”
Dr Anna Huette, a German GP trainee working in Cornwall, said: “Since the EU referendum result I have found things incredibly difficult. I felt completely settled in Cornwall before the referendum, but this has totally changed since the Brexit vote.
“Being left in limbo, not knowing whether and under which conditions I will be allowed to live and work here is very unsettling, as well as surprising, knowing how desperate the UK is for GPs and other healthcare professionals.
“I feel I have no choice but to get the appropriate accreditation in Germany as soon as I complete my GP training just in case, in order to assess my future when we have seen what happens to the UK and the NHS in the coming months.”