How Will The NHS Cope After Brexit Next Year?

Photographed by Jessica Nash.
In the run-up to the EU referendum, one of the main arguments put forward by the Remain campaign was that the NHS would crumble without workers from elsewhere in the EU to prop it up. Up to now, there's been a worrying lack of clarity about what will happen to our healthcare system now that the UK has voted to leave the EU. Conservative health secretary Jeremy Hunt today announced plans for a "self-sufficient" NHS that doesn't rely on doctors from abroad, The Guardian reported. Currently, roughly a quarter of the medical workforce is trained outside the UK. There are 30,472 doctors from the EU and other countries in the European Economic Area, according to data from the General Medical Council, and a further 71,139 who were trained in other non-UK countries. So how will our NHS cope without these dedicated practitioners? Here's what Hunt is proposing.

More student doctors

Hunt intends to make more places available for students to study medicine at universities, which he hopes will shore up the supply of British-trained doctors by the time the UK leaves the EU. He says the NHS in England will be "self-sufficient in doctors" by the end of the next parliament in 2025. The number of places at medical schools will rise by 25% – from 6,000 to 7,500 per year – from 2018, the BBC reported. It's currently extremely competitive to get a place at medical school and around half of all applicants are rejected, so this is good news for aspiring doctors in the UK. It will be a while before the these students join the workforce, however. A degree in medicine takes five years to complete (and then there are post-graduate courses and specialist training on top), so it will be some time before the impact is felt in the NHS. These new doctors will have to work for the NHS for at least four years or face a fine of £220,000 (the cost of their training). While many people welcome Hunt's announcement, others say the increase won't be enough to solve the crisis in doctor shortages in many parts of the country, particularly given the government's plans for a seven-day NHS. A&E services have closed down and junior doctors have been pushed to the limit to fill hospital rota gaps, with many moving abroad or to private practice as a result. Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said an increase in the number of UK-trained medical staff has been a long time coming, but said the proposal doesn't go far enough. "However, if this new announcement involves simply replacing overseas doctors with UK-trained ones, that won't increase the total number working in the NHS, and certainly won't solve the agency staff crisis that is affecting the NHS right now," he added.

EU nationals can stay

Crucially, Hunt says medical professionals from the EU who are already here will be allowed to remain after Brexit. He said: "Currently a quarter of our doctors come from overseas. They do a fantastic job and we have been clear that we want EU nationals who are already here to stay post-Brexit," reported the BBC. "But is it right to import doctors from poorer countries that need them while turning away bright home graduates desperate to study medicine?" Meanwhile, Leave campaigners have admitted that the extra £350 million a week that they pledged to the NHS if the UK was to back Brexit was a mistake.

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