Scots medical chiefs warn NHS ‘stretched to the limit’ by Brexit

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Doctors’ leaders have warned that “cutting off” the supply of European Union medics coming to work in Scotland after Brexit will have a “disastrous” impact on the NHS.

The absence of progress on a deal is “deeply worrying”, according to Peter Bennie, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Scotland. He will meet MEPs and fellow European doctors in Brussels today to step up calls for action.

With the NHS in Scotland already facing staff shortages, the BMA has warned that the failure to agree  a post-Brexit deal on European doctors could be 'disastrous'. Picture: Greg Macvean

With the NHS in Scotland already facing staff shortages, the BMA has warned that the failure to agree a post-Brexit deal on European doctors could be 'disastrous'. Picture: Greg Macvean

The supply of EU doctors is vital to NHS Scotland’s workforce that is “stretched to its limits”, he says.

One Dundee-based German doctor has even warned EU medics in Scotland were already considering their future and suggested the ongoing “uncertainty and hardship” could convince many to leave the country.

Dr Bennie will be at the European Parliament today to attend an event on the future of the European Medical Workforce, with Scottish Government officials also poised to attend.

“It is deeply concerning that we have seen virtually no progress on a solution that will allow medical professionals to come to Scotland to work after Brexit,” he said. “While we have seen some reassurance for doctors already in Scotland and those who arrive during the transition period, there is absolutely no clarity on what immigration arrangements may be in place once we have left the European Union and the implications that could have for doctors.

“The benefits of allowing doctors to practice freely across the EU are manifold.

“Not least among them is the substantial contribution European doctors make to delivering care in our NHS. At a time when our workforce is already stretched to its limits, it is unthinkable that we could simply stand by and lose this important supply line of doctors for our hospitals and communities.”

The BMA also wants to see an arrangement established that continues with the mutual recognition of medical qualifications across Europe “as a priority”.

“This situation must be particularly worrying for students from EEA countries who are either studying in Scotland at the moment or considering coming to Scotland and have no idea whether their qualification will be valid in Europe after the transition period is complete,” Dr Bennie added.

“Since 2010, more than 200 students from the EU have graduated from Scottish medical schools. We want these future doctors to stay in Scotland out of choice – because this is a great place to live and work – yet we risk losing them before they even qualify due to this ongoing uncertainty.”

Dr Thomas Robertson is a German doctor who has worked as a consultant anaesthetist in Dundee since 2016.

He admits he is “worried” by the UK government’s lack of a feasible proposal for Brexit and the future of the medical profession is worrying.

“Not being allowed to stay in the UK and not being allowed to work as a professional in the EU is a possible and potentially disastrous scenario for many who trained in the NHS,” he said. “I think European doctors in Scotland and the UK are aware that we are in a privileged position compared to most migrants and – even in a worst-case scenario – we are very likely to be able to manage.

“For many the question is rather, how much uncertainty and hardship can we take until we decide we do not want to stay in the UK anymore? With EU passports, language skills and EU qualifications, the answer is probably not as much as the UK government thinks.

“Having moved to another country before, we know how much stress it is to start from scratch in another country. However, this option exists and there is a limited amount of hardship people will accept before making such a move to leave the UK.”

Health secretary Shona Robison said the NHS faced “huge risks” as a result of Brexit. “The only way to protect staff and patients is to stay in the EU and, failing that, retain our membership of the single market and customs union,” the minister added.

“Without that, we could see diminished cross-border recognition of qualifications, slower access to new research or medicines and fewer rights for Scottish patients to have treatment in the EU.

“If the UK government delivers a Brexit that harms NHS staffing, then powers should be devolved to allow the Scottish Government to develop a tailored migration system to support the recruitment and retention of a sustainable medical workforce.”

Labour health spokesperson Anas Sarwar said any Brexit deal must allow for fair immigration and to protect public services.

“Labour will offer EU nationals certainty,” he said.

“We would start on the principles of fair rules, the reasonable management of migration and recognition of the contribution nationals from across the world play in our public services.

“That means both guaranteeing the rights and status of existing EEA nationals, but also ensuring our NHS and care sector can recruit the staff needed to care for our sick and elderly now and in the future.

“The stark truth is that we already faced an unacceptable workforce crisis in our health service thanks to SNP mismanagement, with soaring numbers on unfilled posts for consultants, nurses and midwives.”