22 June

As we vote tomorrow in the EU Referendum, the answer to ‘What will Brexit mean for the NHS?’ is not straightforward and depends on whether you are a Leaver or Remainer. There are fierce arguments on both sides of the debate and in truth, it seems as if no one really knows what will happen if we leave or remain.

If you ask GPs now they may well say that it can’t get any worse than it already is: overwhelming workloads, a severe shortage of GPs, lack of skilled support and a desperately underfunded Primary Care system within the NHS.

The UK population as it is now will continue to get old and create further strains on limited resources with age related conditions such as dementia, heart problems and a wide variety of physical ailments as the body declines. The UK population will continue to rise and GPs will have to cope with less money in the system whether we are in or out unless there are dramatic and urgent changes.

Is there any good news for both sides?

If we stay we can bring in well qualified GPs from the EU who will be willing to take up those hard to fill positions in deprived urban areas and the more remote rural locations. The key to a successful influx of EU GPs is ensuring their retention and helping them to integrate into the culture of the UK and the NHS

If we leave, it is assumed that there’ll be a cap on immigration from EU member states and with fewer people allowed to move to the UK this may create less of a burden on over stretched NHS resources.

The bad news is that if we leave it’s not only EU GPs who won’t have access to the UK marketplace. Hospitals are staffed with many foreign nurses and support staff and let’s not forget the people who keep hospitals going: the maintenance staff, the plumbers, builders, cleaners, kitchen staff and many more. Sometimes they are pitifully low paid and even the new minimum wage can’t help people to be able to afford to live in overpriced cities. The truth is that a lot of UK citizens would not want to take on these jobs, let alone for a low income.

Of course, in the arguments to get out of the EU, the leavers are not talking about the millions of ex pats in EU states who may have to return home and the UK population will continue to grow with rising birthrates whatever the outcome of the referendum.

Tawhid Juneja, MD of leading medical recruitment consultancy Primary Care Professionals says

“The NHS has been supported by immigration from within the EU for many years, these roles range from lower paid workers to senior members of the NHS. If Jeremy Hunt is to achieve his target of recruiting 5000 GPs by 2020 then looking to European GPs must be part of the strategy. At the moment the free movement within the EU is sure to make this easier than what could happen if the UK leave the EU.”

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