Most Doctors Are Gloomy About the NHS After Brexit 

Peter Russell

July 31, 2018

Leaving the European Union would be bad for the NHS, a survey of doctors found.

Nearly four-fifths of doctors (79.4%) who took part said they had voted to remain a member of the EU, significantly more than the general population (48.1%). Around 4 out of 5 doctors thought Brexit would have a negative effect on the health service.

Nearly all doctors (98.6%) said that NHS staff who were EU nationals should be able to remain in the UK.

The results emerged from a poll looking at the political beliefs and voting patterns of 1172 doctors published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the results supported the argument that the public should have a final say in any proposed Brexit deal.

A Diagnosis of Political Opinion

Researchers from several institutions including the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, King's College London, and University College London developed an online survey for doctors in the immediate aftermath of the 2017 general election that was held almost a year after the EU referendum.

Those included represented 0.4% of the 282,304 doctors licensed to practice in the UK in 2016. Forty-five percent of those who took part were women. Most respondents had qualified in the UK and lived in England; over half were consultants or GPs (36.1% and 19.8% respectively), and nearly a third were junior doctors (29.8%). Most (86.1%) worked primarily within the NHS.

Doctors were asked about their political views, their voting behaviour and views on specific health policy issues.
 

The Impact of Brexit

Participants were asked to rate the potential impact of Brexit on the NHS using a scale from 0 to 10, where zero was the worst possible outcome and 10 the best. The average score for the impact of Brexit on the NHS was two, with 82.7% of doctors scoring the impact of Brexit as less than five.

When respondents rated their political beliefs on a scale of 0 to 10, where zero was extremely left-wing and 10 extremely right-wing, the average score was four. However, those in higher income brackets were more likely to lean politically to the right, researchers found.

Being a surgeon doubled the odds of a more right-wing score, while junior doctors at specialty training entry level (ST3) and above were less likely to express right wing views relative to all other grades.
 
There were no characteristics associated with significantly different views on the Brexit question though, the researchers reported.
 

Conservatives 'Have Lost the Support of Doctors'

Another key finding was a shift to the political left between the 2015 and 2017 elections, with the proportion of doctors voting Labour rising from 29.3% to 46.3%, while the proportion voting Conservative fell from 26.2% to 19.7%.

"Our results suggest that the Conservative government lost support from doctors between the 2015 and 2017 UK general elections," the authors wrote. They continued: "The 2017 general election was widely seen as a mandate for the government's stance on a 'hard' Brexit, and this swing may therefore reflect doctors' assessment of largely negative consequences of Brexit for the NHS. 

"Doctors would also be acutely aware of the contribution of their EU colleagues in the NHS and the impact of continued government ambiguity on the status of EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit."
 

Contingency Planning

The survey results pre-dated today's concerns about a post-Brexit scenario for the NHS. There are worries over the cost and availability of medicines and staffing shortfalls, should the UK leave the EU without a deal.

 

In the latest warning, Sir Michael Rawlins, chair of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) warned that insulin supplies could be disrupted in the face of a 'no deal' Brexit because the UK imports "every drop of it".

In comments made to The Pharmaceutical Journal, Sir Michael called on the Government to "work out how" the supply of medicines would be guaranteed if the UK crashed out of the EU.

Matt Hancock, the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care for England, has admitted that plans were being prepared to stockpile medicines, medical devices, and blood products.

"With the challenges imposed on UK health services from leaving the EU now widely recognised in the medical community, the consensus among UK doctors on the negative impact of Brexit is perhaps not surprising," the authors of the latest study concluded.

Dr Andrew Dearden, spokesman for the BMA, said: "We know that doctors are worried that Brexit could seriously undermine the provision of healthcare in the UK and Europe.

"The challenges posed by Brexit are considerable and though there has been some progress, there is too much uncertainty around what the implications will be for doctors and the health service.  We already know, for example, that Brexit has already had a huge impact on the morale of EU NHS staff working here – our own research has shown us that almost half of NHS staff from the EU are considering leaving the UK because of the EU referendum.

"Though concerns were raised prior to the Brexit vote, no one could have imagined the extent of the complications such a result would bring."

Political views of doctors in the UK: a cross sectional study doi 10.1136/jech-2018-210801, Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. Paper.

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