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EU doctors in Northern Ireland must be given assurances

Editor's Viewpoint

The implications of Brexit appear to be endless. Today we report that leading spokespersons for GPs in Northern Ireland are stating the EU-nationals who are working here as doctors should retain special status post-Brexit to prevent the collapse of our healthcare system.

Most people are aware that we depend on people from outside Northern Ireland to keep the NHS working as effectively as possible.

However, there's already many problems and a lot needs to be done to make the service better.

People may not be aware that EU-national doctors make up 11% of the GP workforce in Northern Ireland.

This is more than twice the figure of just 5% for England and nearly three times more than Scotland and Wales.

Without the influx of these medical professionals from the EU, and their crucial input to healthcare, around 3.5 million patients across the UK could be left without a family doctor.

It scarcely needs underlining that because our dependence on EU doctors is so great in Northern Ireland, the number of patients affected by their absence would be much greater pro-rata than in other parts of the UK.

Most people, at one time or another, need to consult a doctor.

It is not lost on them that the medical sector is heavily reliant on doctors coming from Europe and other places such as south Asia.

The contribution by EU nationals is overwhelming, to the point where people would fear how the system would function without them.

In Northern Ireland there is already a crisis over GP services. Dr Tom Black, chair of the Northern Ireland's GP Committee of the British Medical Association, said that the situation is "very sombre" with older GPs retiring and younger doctors unwilling to replace them.

There are many complex demands on our Brexit negotiators, but few are more pressing than the health of the people, and the prevention of a yawning "back hole" in healthcare provision.

Brexit, of course, is a matter for the UK Government, as Prime Minister Theresa May has made clear.

However the whole subject of healthcare is a devolved power in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

This is another reason why we should have a fully functioning Executive in a position to press Northern Ireland's case at Westminster. The sooner this happens, the better.

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