Brexit has worsened acute shortages of doctors in key UK care areas and led to more than 4,000 European doctors opting out of NHS work, research reveals.
The revelation comes as a growing number of doctors are resigning disillusioned by their relentlessly busy work lives in the increasingly overburdened health service. official figures show that the NHS in England alone has vacancies for 10,582 doctors.
Britain has 4,285 fewer European doctors than if the rising numbers that came before the Brexit vote in 2016 had continued since then, according to analysis by health think tank Nuffield Trust that he has shared with The Guardian.
In 2021, a total of 37,035 doctors from the EU and the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) worked in the UK. However, there would have been 41,320, or 4,285 more, had the decision to leave the EU not caused a “slowdown” in the recruitment of doctors from the EU and the EFTA quartet of Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
The fall has left four main types of medical specialties that have long-standing physician shortages — anesthesia, children, psychiatry, and cardiac and pulmonary treatment — unable to meet the demand for care increased by Covid and an aging population.
Just one example of how the slowdown is affecting daily NHS care is the limit on the amount of surgery that can be performed, said Martha McCarey, a researcher at the Nuffield Trust and lead author of the analysis. The UK has 394 fewer EU/EFTA anesthetists than if pre-Brexit numbers had continued, she found.
“The National Health Service it has struggled to recruit vital specialists such as home anaesthetists, and Brexit appears to be worsening long-standing labor shortages in some professional groups. Without anesthetists, many operations cannot be done,” he said.
The findings come amid calls by business leaders for ministers to rethink how immigration to Britain works to help overcome economy-wide labor shortages. These have deepened in recent years, partly as a result of the UK ending automatic free movement for EU citizens. The Confederation of British Industry has been particularly vocal in that demand.
The Nuffield Trust blamed the doctors’ slump on the fact that EU-trained doctors looking to work in the UK now face additional red tape and higher costs as a direct result of Brexit. “Since the referendum campaign, higher costs, more paperwork and visa uncertainty due to Brexit have been some of the biggest barriers to recruiting and keeping doctors from the EU and EFTA,” McCarey said.
The NHS has 369 fewer cardiothoracic surgeons, 288 fewer paediatricians and 165 fewer psychiatrists if recruitment patterns seen before the 2016 vote held.
Daisy Cooper, the health spokeswoman and deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the non-arrival of 4,285 EU/EFTA doctors was “shocking”.
He added: “From absurd pension rules to expensive visas, the Tories are choking our NHS staff pipeline with red tape. The NHS is on its knees after years of the Conservative government botching the service.
“These numbers are shocking and further evidence, if any, of the incompetence of the Tories.”
Brexit has had a far more damaging effect on the NHS possibility of hiring nurses While 9,389 nurses and midwives who had trained in the bloc came to work in Britain in 2015-16, just 663 did so in 2021-22, data published by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) showed. ) in May. However, that dramatic drop has been offset by a large increase in the number of such professionals who hail from the rest of the world, particularly India and the Philippines, the regulator said. An NMC report due this week is expected to confirm that the trends have continued in recent months.
The UK has 58,000 fewer nurses than if the number of arrivals had continued before Brexit. “Nursing saw a much more dramatic collapse in EU and EFTA migration at the time of the referendum, when the mass conscription ended and a new language test came in,” the NMC analysis said. While there are 29,000, it would have been as many as 87,000 if things hadn’t changed in 2016, she estimated.
The British Medical Association (BMA), the main doctors’ union, lamented the lower than expected number of European doctors who have decided to work in the UK since Brexit.
“Although we have such severe staff shortages in the NHS, including almost 11,000 medical vacancies in English hospitals alone, it is deeply disappointing that Brexit has meant we lose more than 4,000 EU doctors who could be caring for patients,” he said. Dr Kitty Mohan, Chair of the BMA International Physicians Committee.
“Even with efforts to increase the national supply of doctors, given the time it takes to train these specialists, we will still find ourselves short if we do not recruit and retain our EU and international colleagues.”
Research published in March 2021 found that Brexit had left many European doctors already in the UK feeling unwelcome, alienated and insecure about their future working lives in Britain.
The decision to leave the EU had a “profound impact” on those doctors. And it produced “anger, worry and frustration, along with factual concerns about legal status, qualifications, training and pensions that contributed to the strong impact of Brexit on their personal and professional lives”, the study by Brunel University academics and Queen Mary University. of London found.
The Guardian approached the Department of Health and Social Attention to comment.