This study, commissioned by The Guardian daily, comes as the public health system (NHS) suffers many difficulties after years of austerity, with record waiting lists in hospitals due to the pandemic of Covid-19, but also due to a shortage of doctors and nurses.
The Nuffield Trust looked at four specialties – anaesthesia, paediatrics, cardiothoracic surgery and psychiatry – where European doctors were particularly represented before the UK left the EU. In these four specialties, which are already experiencing tensions in their recruitment, “the increase in staff from the EU or countries in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA, namely Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein) has slowed”, the study shows.
Lack of qualified labour
If the pre-Brexit trend had continued, there should have been more than 41,000 EU and EFTA doctors registered by 2021, at least 4,000 more than the numbers actually seen. For the Nuffield Trust, “the campaign and result of the referendum (2016) to leave the EU is the obvious reason for this change in trend”.
At issue: firstly the uncertainty about the new rules for the movement of people, then the tightening of the rules for issuing visas, and finally a “deterioration of working conditions” in general in the health system. “These findings suggest that the stagnation in the number of EU doctors in these specialties has exacerbated existing shortages in areas where the NHS is unable to find skilled labor elsewhere,” adds the director.