Doctors consider leaving NHS owing to immigration rules

Life at Work
Tim Tonkin

Limitations on dependent relatives may cause surge in staff exiting UK

Restrictive immigration rules around bringing family members to the UK is forcing many overseas doctors to consider leaving the NHS, the BMA has warned the Government.

The limitations on bringing dependent adult relatives, such as older parents, to live in the UK is having a ‘profound impact’ on doctors and causing many to take time off work or to consider leaving the NHS altogether, a BMA survey has shown.

UK immigration law requires those wishing to bring adult family members to the UK to prove to the Home Office their relatives require long-term care, and that the level of care cannot be obtained in their countries of origin.

The onerous and complex nature of these rules means many doctors have found it almost impossible to bring their loved ones to the UK.

The survey, which received responses from more than 3,300 doctors across the UK, reveals that 84 per cent of respondents told the BMA they knew of at least one doctor in the past five years who had quit the UK to look after adult relatives overseas.  

94 per cent felt that the restrictions on bringing family to the UK made it less likely they would stay and work as doctors in the UK in the long term. 

Heavy toll

Meanwhile 90 per cent of survey respondents had adult, dependent relatives overseas, with 76 per cent having had to take time off work in the past five years to provide care to relatives overseas, with half having had to do so on more than one occasion.

In his letter to home secretary James Cleverly, BMA council chair Phil Banfield warns the survey shows the tremendous toll the Government’s restrictive rules on immigration are having on the personal and professional wellbeing of many doctors.

He says: ‘We are deeply concerned this rule is having an adverse impact on the lives, health and mental wellbeing of doctors with elderly dependent parents living abroad and are calling for urgent action to address this.

‘These are doctors who are not only providing vital care in a system already buckling under pressure of workforce shortages, but they are often people the UK has spent time and money on training. It does not make economic sense for the UK to invest money in training doctors only for them to be forced to leave the country to look after their elderly parents.

Arm 2022 Phil Banfield (1)
BANFIELD: Doctors' wellbeing affected

‘Not only is this extremely challenging for doctors who already have busy and stressful lives, but it means they are often forced to take leave, and often make multiple journeys, taking them away from the NHS at a time when the system is already understaffed and doctors are suffering with burnout.’

He adds: ‘We urge you to change the current rules and make it possible for the elderly parents of doctors working in the UK to be granted indefinite leave to remain and join their families in the UK.

‘At a time when the NHS is struggling with waiting lists and understaffing, this will give doctors working on the front line the reassurance they need to stay working for the NHS whilst fulfilling their personal caring responsibilities to their elderly parents.’

Policy reinforced

The BMA adopted official policy two years ago calling for the Home Office to change the ‘stringent requirements’ on obtaining visas for adult dependent relatives, with this latest survey serving to underline this demand.

Other findings from the survey included 71 per cent of respondents saying that they knew at least one colleague considering leaving the NHS to care for relatives, with 59 per cent admitting they were making similar considerations.

Conversely, 95 per cent told the BMA scrapping the rules on adult dependent relatives would mean they would experience less stress and anxiety, with 87 per cent saying doing so would allow them to focus more on their work.

As well as figures, the survey also hears directly from many doctors who participated, with their comments highlighting the immense personal turmoil they felt over not being able to care for their parents.

One anonymous doctor wrote of the ‘agony of feeling that I let my parents down after they spent their entire life supporting me unconditionally’, while another observed that ‘caring for others when you can’t care for your family is perverse.’

‘Having worked for nearly 20 years, all I have done is pay 40 per cent tax on my earnings and spend my annual leave visiting my parents and relatives [to] sort out their health issues,’ another doctor told the BMA survey.

‘Is this the penalty for deciding to relocate to the UK? I will move back to my country of origin if it comes to looking after my aged parents.’