NHS brain drain: more EU workers leaving Birmingham hospitals

The proportion of EU workers leaving Birmingham NHS trusts has increased in 5 out of 6 hospitals in the last year.

The share of workers from the EU joining the Birmingham workforce has also decreased in 3 out of 5 hospitals in the same period.

According to the NHS Digital figures compiled by the BBC, the proportion of EU nationals abandoning the NHS is rising across the UK, while the share of joiners is mostly shrinking.

Experts interviewed by the BBC pointed the UK’s decision to leave the European Union as a cause for this result.

At the national level, the NHS Digital figures reveals an even bleaker picture as the share of EU staff leaving the NHS rose over the past two-and-a-half years.

Experts interviewed by the BBC pointed the UK’s decision to leave the European Union as a cause for this result.

EU workers in Birmingham NHS Trusts

The data collected by the BBC shows that the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust has seen one of the biggest losses of EU workers following Brexit.

While this group comprised 5.3% of all leavers in 2014-2015, the figure rose to 7.2% in 2015-2016 and 7.3% for 2016-2017.

The University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust declined to comment on grounds that this is a national policy matter.

The data also shows a strong increase in EU leavers in the last year for the Birmingham Women’s Hospital, rising from 3.9% in 2014-2015 to 9.5% in 2016-2017. But the data is incomplete with regards to simultaneous EU joiners.

Professor Alex De Ruyter, Director of the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University, has an idea as to why Birmingham, until recently, was bucking national average by increasing its number of EU nationals within the NHS workforce:

“I think one thing about Birmingham is that it is one of the youngest major cities in Europe, with about 40% of all the population below the age of 25, and on any given day about 85 languages are spoken in the city, so there we can find a strong sense of tolerance and understanding.

“This diversity is a factor in itself.”

But Professor Alex De Ruyter is not surprised by the broader trend following Brexit, which seems to be compromising recruitment efforts in Birmingham and elsewhere:

“Unfortunately I think the referendum campaign [on Brexit] has been characterised by anti-migrant sentiment and this has had a nefast effect.

“I do think this has to do with the economy but also with some political issues, although I am not saying that everyone in the Leave campaign was only talking in these terms.”

But he added that the appealing force of some arguments in the context of a difficult-to-explain economy probably have played negatively on the EU workers generally.

Broader Brexit effect

Brexit has already had health experts worried about its impact on the national workforce.

The BBC previously reported a striking 96% drop in EU nursing professionals registering to work in the UK. And the NHS Employers said the decision “has created significant uncertainty” among EU staff.

The British Medical Association also expressed concerns that half of the 10,000 EU doctors working in the country were considering leaving in light of the Brexit results.

Carmen Aguilar García contributed to this report.

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