British Medical Association (BMA) leaders have warned that as the UK leaves the EU on 31 January, the recruitment and retention of doctors is a key concern.

On the day the UK exited the EU, the BMA's Brexit-day message to European NHS staff was that they are "welcome here". Although the formal departure from the EU took place on 31 January, a transition period will mean that most EU rules remain in place until December.

In the message to EU colleagues, BMA Chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said a no-deal situation remained a real risk. He said: "Freedom of movement has allowed talented doctors and other healthcare staff to travel, work and teach across Europe, letting those from the EU to both contribute to and learn from the NHS, while UK-trained clinicians have been able to share their skills in other European nations.

"Our message to our European colleagues, and indeed those around the world, is a clear one: you are welcome here. While the UK may be leaving the EU, Britain’s doctors will remain very much part of Europe’s tight-knit medical community. We have far more in common with our European colleagues than is different. We are one profession bound by our duty and desire to provide the best care to our patients across the continent."

BMA Northern Ireland Chair Dr Tom Black warned of issues that still need to be resolved, and called for guarantees that cross-border healthcare arrangements on the island of Ireland would continue. He also questioned how EU-funded services would be maintained.

He added: "Today marks the beginning of leaving the EU and while this cannot be changed, we remain the only part of the UK to share a land border with Europe, and that unique position presents ongoing uncertainty and insecurity for the delivery of health here."

He said the recruitment and retention of doctors and other healthcare staff was a key issue, with just 11 months' transition time from the EU. He listed the areas that need to be resolved, including how to enable current cross border health services to continue and expand; the practicalities around the transport of medicines over the border; and finding replacement funding for EU funded services.

Dr Nagpaul added that the supply of vital medicines should not disrupted, collaborative relationships with neighbours on medical research should be protected, and a flexible immigration system was needed to allow health and social care staff to respond to needs across Europe.

General Medical Committee (GMC) Chief Executive Charlie Massey said the registration status of any doctor already holding provisional or full registration in the UK will not change due to Brexit, and any new applicants from the EEA will be able to join the register in the same way throughout the transition period.

Last reviewed 4 February 2020