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I've Been A GP In Britain For 20 Years - But Brexit's Negative Rhetoric Makes Me Question My Future

24/02/2017 17:18 GMT | Updated 24/02/2017 17:19 GMT

I started my medical training in Germany more than 20 years ago and after a short placement in the UK I knew I wanted to work here permanently. As a GP working in the NHS, I thought that would always be the case, but the increasingly negative rhetoric surrounding Brexit has made me question my future here.

After moving to the UK in 1995, I met my husband, who is British, and have since made a career as a GP and a home here in Devon with our two sons. I've never felt like a 'foreigner' before but following the EU referendum, it feels like rather than being seen as a valued member of society, I'm considered a bargaining chip for the government's negotiations.

My husband is also a doctor, a haematologist treating illnesses such as leukaemia, and although we love what we do and where we live, when our sons - who are 15 and 17 - have finished school, we may regretfully have to look at leaving the UK.

Sadly, I'm not alone in this. A new survey by the British Medical Association, of 1,193 European doctors working in the UK, found that two fifths (42%) were considering leaving, and more than half (55%) of European doctors felt the UK government isn't doing enough for international doctors.

If those doctors who've been left to feel unappreciated by the government vote with their feet and leave the UK, the health service will not be able to cope.

In my own surgery near Torbay, we treat 18,000 patients with full and part-time GPs, some partners, others salaried doctors. It's been widely documented that there have been significant problems recruiting GPs in recent years - more than ten per cent of GP posts were vacant last year. It is increasingly difficult to recruit GP partners in particular.

Trainee doctors feel put off general practice by the volume of GP appointments which has doubled nationally in the last decade which means we can only see patients for ten minutes at a time - barely enough time to check for complex health concerns.

It can also be hard to attract thirty-something GP trainees to rural areas. The relaxed pace of life of rural Devon is very attractive to me but it isn't for everyone and some prefer the hustle and bustle of urban life.

If I go, my surgery will lose my multi-disciplinary experience of medicine and working within the NHS. Before returning to the South West to work as a GP, I trained as an anaesthetist and my training took me to Exeter, Leicester, Derby and Boston.

In Plymouth alone, four GP surgeries faced closure at the end of March, with around eight thousand patients being displaced after the service provider said maintaining the practices could 'risk the care' it could currently offer. NHS England have said they will save three of these from closure but the new contract holder would only commit to a year. In areas like this, losing an experienced GPs would be a disaster.

Recruiting from the EU has been vital in dealing with staff shortages across the NHS and it's dependent on EU workers to provide a high-quality, reliable and safe service to patients.

Staff shortages are worsening across the NHS, with almost three quarters of NHS Trusts concerned they don't have the right staff numbers and skill mix to deliver high quality care, and one in three GP practices have unfilled vacancies.

And it's not just about numbers. Mutual recognition across the EU of professional qualifications ensures those working here are fully qualified and highly skilled but, at the same time, a different skill mix and a wide range of expertise and experience from different healthcare systems. During my time working in Devon, I've gotten to know my patients and their families. I've been there to help them welcome a new life, care for them when they're often at their most vulnerable, and help them prepare for the loss of a loved one. I have enjoyed being a true family doctor caring for members of the same family and being able to use my knowledge of the whole family to provide holistic care.

To ensure the NHS can continue to provide a high-level of care to its patients, the government must act now, and end the uncertainty in the NHS by granting permanent residence to all doctors and NHS staff from the EU. Around 10,000 doctors who work in the NHS in the UK - 6.6 per cent of the UK medical workforce - qualified in the European Economic Area (EEA), no doubt, a significant number to lose.

The last thing I want to do is leave my patients, colleagues and friends who have been so supportive since the referendum result was announced.

Dr Katharina Roberts is originally from Bochum, Germany. She complete her medical training in Germany and qualified as an anaesthetist. She has worked in the NHS since 1995 in Barnstaple, Exeter, Leicester, Derby and Boston before returning to the south west to pursue a career in general practice