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EU doctors feel unwanted in Brexit Britain

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The NHS needs to do far more to support its European doctors if it wants to hold on to them, signals a new study which shows Brexit has triggered feelings of alienation.

Brexit had a ‘profound impact’ on the majority of UK-based European doctors studied, making many feel unwelcome, with uncertain rights to work straining relationships, it found.

Researchers at Brunel University London and Queen Mary University of London surveyed European medics working in the UK in Spring 2019 before Brexit’s transition time ended.

NHS bosses must offer its European doctors financial and legal support to apply for UK settlement and tackle inequality in hiring, promotion and pay, the study urges.

“The majority of the responsibility lies with the government in terms of restoring mutual recognition of qualifications,” said Dr Adrienne Milner, senior lecturer in public health at Brunel.

“NHS bosses can encourage their employees to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme and offer support. They can also ensure staff are paid at a competitive rate and address issues of race-ethnic inequality in hiring, promotion and compensation practices.”

One in five EU doctors have made solid plans to leave the UK since the referendum result, said doctors’ union, The British Medical Association, 78% of whose members opposed Brexit. But this is the first study to unpeel the many reasons driving their moves.

While stress and understaffing are common reasons for doctors to quit, EU doctors also face legal barriers over their right to practice, whether their families can stay in the UK and whether the UK will still recognise their qualifications beyond the next two years.

Whatever the overriding reason, EU doctors said Brexit dented their personal and professional lives and left them[JB(1]  ‘no longer feeling welcome in the UK’, the study found. “I felt like an immigrant for the first time in 15 years” and “…there seems to be no appreciation for me as a doctor” said two.

Brexit pressurising working relationships was another key theme with 21 % of the doctors saying the vote and its aftermath put a strain on relationships. “I left a consultant job because it was in an area that voted leave,” said one. “They didn't want me there. Very demoralising.” 

“The department is divided – doctors are remain and nurses leave,” said another. “It polluted every human relationship in the hospital.” 18 % said their future working life in the UK felt insecure and 12% said the Brexit vote and its aftermath harmed their mental health.

Government should try to reduce EU doctors’ fears by targeting them to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme before the deadline on 30 June 2021, the study urges.

“There is clear anger, worry and frustration, along with objective concerns about legal status, qualifications, training and pensions contributing to the strong impact of Brexit felt in their personal and professional lives,” said Brunel’s Dr Emma Norris.

“From our results, it is evident that healthcare providers must demonstrate that European doctors are respected and appreciated in the UK in order to prevent further staff losses.”