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No deal threatens to exacerbate winter crisis

Winter pressures – beds

A no-deal Brexit followed by a winter crisis would see the NHS struggle to provide safe care to patients, the BMA has warned.

Disruption resulting from the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on 1 November will cause ‘irreparable harm’ to the NHS and catastrophically exacerbate the challenges posed by a winter pressures crisis.

The warning comes as part of a policy paper published today on the dangers and likely consequences posed by a no deal, including the effect on the supply of medicines and radioisotopes, medical research, funding and the medical workforce.

With the UK’s exit from the EU fewer than 60 days away, the paper warns that fundamental questions on how the risks to the health service will be mitigated, remain unanswered.


Contingency doubts

In his foreword to the paper, BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said that the association was ‘unconvinced’ by ministers' claims that no-deal contingency planning would protect the health service, adding that the public should be given the final say on leaving the EU.

His warning comes at the same time that the Government is expected to launch a £100m campaign advising businesses and the public on how to prepare for a no-deal scenario.

He said: ‘The BMA is in no doubt that Brexit, and a ‘no-deal’ Brexit specifically, will irreparably harm the NHS and the nation’s health.

‘From disruption to essential medicine supplies, patient healthcare and the movement of highly skilled doctors to the potential return of a hard border in Northern Ireland, there are no winners.

‘To make a bad situation even worse, the NHS faces being plunged into a ‘no-deal’ Brexit on the cusp of winter. The NHS has always faced increased pressure on its resources across the winter period, but this year, that pressure has been relentless. Performance levels across the NHS have been missed month after month, with many performance levels at their worst since records began.

He added: ‘We are not “the doubters, the doomsters or the gloomsters” the prime minister described on the steps of Downing Street. Nor is this ‘Project Fear’.

‘We are doctors who day-in and day-out, provide care for patients in the face of the challenges that will only be made worse by a no-deal Brexit in the critical winter months following 31 October.

‘We have a duty to speak out about matters that can harm patient care and we will continue to highlight the dangers Brexit presents in the weeks and months ahead.’


Maintain care

In July this year NHS England wrote to all health providers and commissioners advising that they should develop comprehensive contingency plans designed to maintain patient services in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

However, the BMA has warned that with many trusts routinely overwhelmed by demand during winter months, it was unclear whether services would be able to cope under both scenarios, and that existing ‘winter preparedness funding’ was likely to prove insufficient to meet demand.

As well as the threat posed by a winter crisis, the BMA is asking the Government to provide clarity on how no deal will affect other aspects of the health service such as the rights of EU staff, reciprocal healthcare agreements and the effects of health services on the island of Ireland.

Last week, the BMA and 11 other health organisations and trade unions published a statement warning that a no-deal Brexit would devastate the NHS, calling on prime minister Boris Johnson’s government to take such an option ‘off the table’.

Read the BMA’s no-deal paper

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