Nearly a fifth of NHS doctors from the European Economic Area have already made solid plans to leave the country following the Brexit vote, according to new research.
A total of 12,000 doctors - nearly 7.7% of the medical workforce - is from the EEA and 18% of them have made plans to leave, the British Medical Association (BMA) found. A total of 45% are considering it.
Among the 1,720 doctors surveyed, those who were considering leaving said post-Brexit hostility towards EU nationals and potential changes to immigration rules were why they wanted to go.
It comes amid fears over how Brexit could hit the NHS’ ability to recruit staff, after a 67% rise in the number of EU nurses and midwives leaving in the past year.
In September, NHS Digital revealed nearly 10,000 doctors, nurses and support staff from the EU had quit in the previous year, an increase of 22%, as the NHS struggles to fill vacancies.
The EEA covers the EU and other states signed up to freedom of movement, which Britain is set to abandon after Brexit.
One of the BMA survey respondents, Dr Marco Nardini, said he faced “negative attitudes” since the Brexit referendum in June last year.
“One patient at the end of a consultation started talking about the referendum outcome, saying it was a good thing as it would restrict immigration - I don’t think he realised that he was talking to a foreigner,” he said.
“I agreed and smiled while saying goodbye and gave him by best wishes as usual, but it made me very sad.”
Germany, Spain and Australia are the most popular choices of country to move to, the survey found.
The BMA, which has called for EEA doctors to be guaranteed the right to remain and for flexible post-Brexit rules that allow others to continue to come here, warned the findings were a “real concern”.
Dr Andrew Dearden, BMA treasurer, said: “Many have dedicated years of service to the NHS and medical research in the UK, and without them our health service would not be able to cope.
“We need clarity on what the future holds for EU citizens and their families living in the UK, and an end to the uncertainty and insecurity that could see many voting with their feet.
“It’s also vital that any future immigration system is flexible enough to ensure the NHS can recruit and retain doctors and other NHS workers in sufficient numbers.
“Our NHS and patient care are all the richer for having a diverse workforce - it’s crucial we don’t lose valuable experience and expertise because of Brexit.”
The survey also found 77% of EEA doctors would be more likely to leave Britain if negotiations failed to secure European citizens’ rights.
Dr Nardini, who moved back to Italy in August after nearly two years in Manchester and Teesside, said Brexit had been a “key factor”.
He added: “One of my main concerns was around whether my qualifications would continue to be recognised abroad and in the UK.
“There’s so much uncertainty at the moment - moving back to Italy and completing my training here seemed like the safer option.”