With just 100 days until Britain leaves the EU, the UK’s doctors are warning of the grave danger Brexit poses to the NHS and the health of the nation, and how political wrangling over the deal is distracting policymakers away from the urgent issues facing the health service this winter.
The British Medical Association, stressing the uncertainty that still surrounds Brexit and outlining a number of key areas that are at threat from Britain’s departure, is marking the 100-day milestone by repeating its call for a second referendum.
Facing what could be the toughest winter yet for the health service, the BMA is also asking ministers and policymakers to urgently outline their plans to address immediate pressures in the NHS, after it was revealed that the Government’s long-term plan has been delayed amid internal disputes over Brexit.
The BMA is keen to stress that no section of the health service will go unaffected by Brexit. Key areas impacted1 will be:
- Workforce: EU doctors make up around 10 per cent of the NHS medical workforce, but a BMA survey2 found over a third of these are considering leaving the UK, with Brexit being an overriding factor. Any reduction in the number of doctors coming to the UK, or an increase in the number leaving presents a real risk to the NHS workforce and its ability to provide safe care for patients.
- Recognition of professional qualifications: Through the mutual recognition of professional qualifications (MRPQ), doctors who qualify in one member state can have those qualifications quickly recognised in another. After Brexit they are likely to face additional barriers to recognition.
- Access to medicines: The UK’s membership of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) means patients have timely access to new medicines and medical devices, but after Brexit the UK's medicines regulator will have to follow the EMA's rules on medicines but will have no power to shape them.
- Radioisotopes: As a member of Euratom, the UK has a secure, consistent and reliable supply of radioisotopes, which are vital for cancer treatment and diagnosis of disease. Any delays at the UK border could mean clinicians won’t be able to access a consistent supply of radioisotopes after Brexit.
- Northern Ireland: The open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland allows healthcare professionals based on both sides of the land border to travel freely to provide care to their patients. With future border arrangements being a major sticking point in current negotiations, care on both sides is at risk.
- Health security: As an EU member, the UK works closely with partners to monitor and share information on disease outbreaks and response planning. The UK will be excluded from the ECDC (European Centre for Disease and Control) in 100 days, and will no longer be able to influence ECDC decisions.
- Research: Collaboration on medical research has bought wide-ranging benefits as part of the UK’s membership of the EU, not least in giving patients in the UK and across Europe access to new and innovative medicines faster. The loss of access to EU health-related research funding programmes after Brexit limits the UK’s ability to translate research into medicines and medical devices into products to bring to the market.
Only by remaining a member of the EU can guarantee Britain continues to have access to the same benefits.
The BMA has also spoken to EU doctors, who, with 100 days to go, describe feeling “rejected” and unsettled by the uncertainty of Brexit.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “At 11pm on Friday 29 March 2019 Britain is set to leave the EU. That’s just 100 days away, and yet uncertainty still shrouds how Brexit will play out.
“The only thing that is certain, is how disastrous leaving the EU will be for the NHS, its workforce, its patients and the health of the country as a whole – and that no type of Brexit can ever offer the same benefits we currently have.
“In leaving the EU Britain will lose access the host of benefits it offers, from freedom of movement that allows hard-working doctors to provide invaluable care across the NHS to Euratom membership that ensures the supply of vital radioisotopes for cancer treatment and far more.
“Given the very real health threats that Brexit brings, the British public must be given a final say on any deal in a second referendum.
“Furthermore, the political chaos surrounding Brexit means the urgent healthcare needs of the country are not being addressed just as we enter the most challenging months of the year. We were assured that the Government was going to lay out its long-term plan for the NHS before Christmas, but the Brexit stalemate means this has now been delayed until at least the new year.
“We are on the brink of what we know will be weeks of overcrowding in hospitals, patients waiting many hours on trolleys and staff pushed to the limit of their physical and emotional wellbeing – the annual winter crisis.3
“The shambles surrounding Brexit will mean that the NHS, patients and staff will suffer this winter as the Government is diverted from addressing the very real crisis on their doorstep.”
Dr Giuseppe Enrico Bignardi4, a microbiology consultant working in Sunderland, moved to the UK from Italy in 1985 and has dual British-Italian citizenship. He said:
“I define myself as a British Italian and have now spent more than half of my life in England.
“After the Brexit vote in June 2016 I was gutted. I felt as if I had been personally rejected from my adoptive country. Had I made the wrong choice when I moved to the UK in 1985?”
Dr Patricia Romero Palomino, a consultant anaesthetist working in Leicester, came to the UK from Spain in 2013. She said:
“I finally felt settled in this country and then Britain voted to leave and everything became confusing.
“Brexit means uncertainty to me. It has been a big stopping point in my life, and I have had to put everything on hold as the uncertainty means it has been difficult to make any long-term plans.
“I am scared that this country is heading towards a massive crisis.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.
- Find the BMA’s full Brexit briefings at bma.org.uk/Brexit.
- Read more about the BMA’s EU doctor survey here.
- More information on the BMA’s winter pressures work, including projections on A&E beds needed this winter, can be found here.
- Read blogs by Dr Bignardi and Dr Romero Palomino here.