Dr David Smith: A junior doctor’s diagnosis – Brexit is becoming a betrayal of the NHS

Brexit uncertainty is harming the NHS, according to Dr David Smith.
Brexit uncertainty is harming the NHS, according to Dr David Smith.
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I aM a trainee GP and chair of the British Medical Association’s Yorkshire regional junior doctors committee. We represent all the junior doctors in Yorkshire, Humber and Northern Lincolnshire – just short of 5,000 highly-skilled individuals – and in the last week we have taken the step of writing to every MP in the area to highlight our growing concerns around Brexit.

Demand in the NHS has never been higher and government funding has failed to keep up with this. Instead of finding more money for the NHS, this Government seeks to drag us out of the EU, simultaneously tearing up decades of carefully written trade deals.

Dr David Smith is a Leeds-born GP.

Dr David Smith is a Leeds-born GP.

The effect of this will be a major hit to our economy, sapping away any hope of a light at the end of the tunnel after years of austerity. Far from the £350m a week promised, Brexit means no extra resources to save our NHS.

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This isn’t the worst part though. No, that is the damage to people. Doctors are quite a clever bunch. We’re skilled and we’re in-demand across the world. Many of my colleagues were already considering leaving the NHS to work abroad, given the levels of morale (thanks to a decade of real-terms pay cuts, while crippling underfunding means facilities for junior doctors are neglected as money is diverted to prop up struggling frontline services).

With Brexit on the horizon, many junior doctors are converting lingering thoughts of a better life abroad into tangible action. A good friend of mine, a soon-to-be-qualified GP trainee, has found the love of her life in a Spanish man. He has worked and paid tax in the UK for many years but has been told that he may not qualify to stay here after Brexit.

Instead of trying to live life surrounded by uncertainty, my friend has instead taken a mortgage on a villa in Spain and plans to start a new life with her partner there. For those of us left behind in the UK, we will be left without another talented, caring doctor and our working lives will be that bit harder. Thoughts of following her lead grow stronger every day.

“It’s okay,” you say. “We can recruit more doctors from overseas.” Don’t bet on it. The end of freedom of movement will make it more difficult for highly-skilled EU doctors to come and work here, while the climate created by the Brexit vote means Britain is increasingly seen as an unattractive place to come, hostile and suspicious of its foreign neighbours. Why would an international doctor want to relocate their life to the UK when they’re made to feel so unwelcome?

If you need evidence for this perception, look at the EU doctors who are already here. A third recently told a BMA survey that they’re considering leaving, citing Brexit as the leading cause.

I don’t want our NHS to be this way. I was born in Leeds, where all my family live. I want a healthcare system that is there to treat them when they need it. GPs who are happy and not burnt out. Doctors in hospitals who haven’t been on their feet, without rest or a toilet break, for 12 hours. Junior doctors who don’t have one eye on their patients and the other on the hospital door.

I love my region and the patients in it. The first motion picture film was filmed here in Yorkshire. The world’s first football club originated and still exists here. We gave the world stainless steel, the first commercial steam train, Hobbits and probably the best incarnation of the Doctor from Doctor Who.

While Yorkshire may have voted to leave the EU in 2016, given what we know now, I don’t accept that the majority of Yorkshire voted for this. I have no doubts that many have issues with the EU but Yorkshire folk did not vote for this – a crippled NHS, with Brexit standing by to kick it while it’s already down.

There’s a reason that House Stark, heroes of the TV show Game of Thrones, all speak with a Yorkshire accent. The world knows that Yorkshire means good people. Upstanding people, who look after each other. I can’t accept that we disdain our foreign neighbours. I can’t accept that we would willingly destroy our own health service and harm all the people who depend on it, just because we take issue with a few things that the EU does.

No, the people of Yorkshire did not vote for this. Warnings about the devastating impact Brexit will have on the NHS were ignored by politicians.

Now that the truth is out, the just thing to do is to go back to the people of Yorkshire and the rest of the UK with a vote on the final deal.

Dr David Smith is a trainee GP from Yorkshire.