It's the EU referendum next week. I know this not because I've been avidly following news coverage of it, but because my daughter's birthday is the day before and every time I think about that, I remember the vote.
In all honesty, I mentally switched off a few months ago just after campaigning began. I am an NHS GP. The outcome of this referendum will have a huge impact on my daily life, my work, and my children's future. But I have to put my hands up and confess - I'm a doctor, and I don't get the EU referendum.
I'm usually pretty keen on politics and enjoy seeing the sparring that goes on between rival parties. But the rapid degeneration into "Leave says X; Remain says Y" left me bemused. It is worse than a playground fight. Other than gut instinct, how do you decide who to believe? Each side presents their facts and figures, each side can counter claims to suit their agenda. There is precious little independent analysis going on. I'm trained to look at the evidence as part of being a doctor; this should be easy. But even I am confused.
What do I know? I make no judgement on the wider picture, but we are all experts in our own sphere. So if you want the view from the NHS, here are my thoughts.
I know I have worked with doctors, nurses and NHS staff from across the world in my career so far. I know I would happily continue to do so. Many have known far more than me, and have worked harder than me. That's a bit of a statement isn't it? I'm not sure which of those doctors or nurses would not be welcome here if we vote to leave. Will it the the excellent German obstetrician, the talented Indian surgeon, the compassionate Irish psychiatrist, the caring Malaysian nurse, or the Polish healthcare assistant? I don't want any of them to.
I know the NHS relies on an international staff. Leaving the EU will throw up untold complications to these staff remaining employed here. The UKs medical education is viewed as one of the best in the world, and people travel here to do their training, and to stay and work here. They easily contribute above and beyond anything they have "taken out". I simply can't get my head around the logistics of having to establish the long term immigration status of all these people and the idea of deporting some of them because they don't earn enough.
I know I have treated patients from across Europe and the world. I know I would happily do so again. In fact, during my stints working weekend shifts in A&E, the abuse I received was from intoxicated English nationals. The polite thanks I received was from the economic migrants from Eastern Europe. Go figure.
I also know I cannot shift the feeling that there is a racist agenda underlying the debate. That is entirely my own view, and I couldn't tell you where it comes form. Maybe all the anti-immigrant rhetoric. I just know it leaves me feeling deeply uncomfortable as to what kind of country we will live in if we do leave. Does that mean people truly believe all our ills are because of immigration? I worry my children will grow up labelling people they meet as British or not British. What difference does it make? It seems a small step from that to lumping every non-Caucasian into the same camp as ISIS, and us all turning into Donald Trump.
I know there is already enough political interference in the NHS, without all the problems a Leave vote will cause for it. Will we be asking patients at the door their nationality before I can treat them? Will doctors and nurses be expected to police a tighter system? Will I have to refuse care to a patient because they aren't British?I genuinely don't know. I don't believe being a doctor makes me more open minded than any other job, I treat the people who need help. End of story. If where they come from is a problem then it's someone else's problem, not mine.
I worry that the NHS lose more funding. It is already incredibly unstable. Waiting lists are long; I can't see my patients for follow up in less than three weeks. For all the promises of money being freed up if we leave, the NHS doesn't simply rely on the UK to run. It is part of Europe, and access to the single market directly affects what the NHS can provide for it's patients. Not to mention the research that goes on behind the scenes to make sure UK patients are getting the best possible care. I'm not sure how much more change it can take; patient care is already suffering.
This feels like an argument between the past and the future. I heard one story of an elderly man who asked his granddaughter how he should vote. When she told him it was his decision, the Grandfather said "It's your future this affects, not mine. This will change your life. Tell me what you want the future to be like?"
The horrific attack on the LGBT community in Orlando is an attack on us all. The violence marring Euro 2016 in France is an embarrassment to us all. The aggressive division being sown in the Brexit debate is dangerous to us all.
Decisions are not being made based on facts, because there are precious few out there. But on vitriol, fear and lies.
I will be looking at my life, my work, and my children, and I will be voting to protect those. That's all I know, but it's enough for me.
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