A poll of junior doctors suggested that 4 in 10 planned to work outside the NHS, with poor pay the main reason given for wanting to leave.
A third of respondents to the British Medical Association (BMA) survey said they were planning to take their skills abroad in the next 12 months.
Describing the situation as "severe", Prof Philip Banfield, the Association's chair of council, warned that the NHS "will simply not be able to cope" with such an exodus.
The BMA received 4553 responses to its poll in November and December which tested how junior doctors in England viewed their future career choices. Asked whether they agreed with the statement, 'as soon as I can find another job, I will leave the NHS', 1509, or 40%, said they agreed.
'Steep Cuts' to Pay
In a New Year message, Prof Banfield explained: "Junior doctors have faced some of the steepest cuts to their pay of any public sector worker over the last 15 years, with their pay falling by more than a quarter in real terms since 2008 to 2009."
Those taking part in the poll appeared to share that sentiment. Of the junior doctors who were thinking about or planning to leave the NHS:
- 83% cited pay erosion since 2008-09
- 79% cited a below inflation pay award in 2022-23
- 85% cited level of current pay
Deteriorating working conditions were given as a reason by 83% of respondents.
The findings were released as the BMA prepares to ballot its members on 9 January for industrial action in pursuit of a claim to restore pay levels to the equivalent value of the 2008 to 2009 financial year.
Junior doctors were excluded from the most recent pay award process, which could have been seen their earnings rise by 4.5% this year, because their existing multi-year deal guaranteeing them a minimum 8.2% increase over 4 years was in place until 2023. However, the BMA has argued that rising RPI inflation, which stood at 13.7% last month, meant that junior doctors have sustained a real terms pay cut of 26.1% over the last 13 years.
In a letter sent to England's Health Secretary Steve Barclay this summer, the BMA called for "full pay restoration", warning that more than 70% of junior doctors were likely to back industrial action unless its demands were met.
Previous results from the same survey, released before Christmas, suggested that many junior doctors were struggling to pay essential bills and that almost a half of respondents had needed to borrow money from family or friends.
Looking for Work Abroad
The latest published findings showed that of the junior doctors who said they were actively planning to work abroad, 42% said they were likely to choose Australia and 20% New Zealand. The Middle East, Canada, other European countries, and the US made up most of the other countries or regions on the list.
Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chair of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, commented: "These figures are hugely concerning. If our Government doesn't act now, it doesn't take a genius to see where this will lead: an exodus of junior doctors to foreign countries, with the ones who stay in the NHS facing an ever-increasing workload - until they feel they have no option but to leave too or get burnt out.
"If the Government wants 'move to Australia' to stay off the New Year's resolution lists of junior doctors this year, it is going to have to start by reversing the 26% real terms pay cut they have endured since 2008 – or at the very least start speaking with us and stop ignoring our repeated calls to address our pay."