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BMA warns 'no deal' Brexit on cusp of winter will push health service to the brink

A 'no deal' Brexit on 31 October will have a devastating impact on the NHS, at a time when  hospitals, GP surgeries and the wider health service prepare for the most challenging period of year, Britain’s doctors leaders warn today.

In a new briefing paper entitled “A health service on the brink: the dangers of a 'no deal' Brexit”1, published today, the British Medical Association outlines how a departure from the EU without an agreement could ravage the NHS, leaving no area of healthcare untouched.

Not least, the report warns that the NHS faces the double whammy  of the impact of a 'no deal' Brexit as well as coping with the expected winter crisis. Having now experienced two consecutive catastrophic winters2  – and with services increasingly unable to bounce back over summer – the BMA says the effects of a 'no deal' Brexit will “make the disintegration of the health service an ever more real prospect”.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:

“Cancelled operations, missed cancer treatment targets and patients in corridors waiting for hours on end to be seen; recent winters have seen unprecedented scenes unfold in our hospitals, GP surgeries and across the NHS, with patients suffering and staff under increasing pressure as resources and capacity struggle to keep up with rocketing demand.

“Add to that chaos a 'no deal' Brexit, and the disintegration of the health service becomes an ever more real prospect.”

The briefing also demands more than 40 questions are urgently answered by the Government on areas such as:

  • The NHS workforce
  • Access to medicines
  • Reciprocal healthcare arrangements
  • Healthcare in Northern Ireland
  • Medical research

Dr Nagpaul added: “The BMA has been clear of the danger that Brexit poses to the NHS, its staff and patients – a 'no deal' will severely damage our health service and the nation’s health.

“From disruption to essential medicine supplies, patient healthcare and the loss of highly skilled doctors, to the potential return of a hard border in Northern Ireland, no area of health will be left unscathed by a 'no deal'. The consequences will be catastrophic.

“We understand the Government is about to begin a campaign telling the public to ‘Get Ready’ for a 'no deal', but with mere weeks until we potentially crash out, there are still urgent questions for ministers to answer, showing how far from ‘ready’ the NHS really is.

“What guarantees can be made that radioisotopes – vital for cancer treatment and diagnosis – will continue to be imported into the UK without delay in the event of 'no deal'? What actions will the Government take to ensure that economic benefits are not given priority over the nation’s health in a rush to secure trade agreements?

"Given the dangers, every possible step must be taken to avoid it. The public deserve the right to make an informed choice on leaving the EU. Give them the final say on Brexit.”


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.

  1. Find full briefing here.
  2. In January, February and March of 2018 and 2019, five of those six months saw new record lows established for the four-hour wait target. The 440,000 trolley waits from the same period was almost as many as the combined trolley waits recorded in the winters of all six years between 2011 and 2016 (450,000). Find more information on the BMA's work around pressures here.

For further information please contact:

British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JP
Telephone: 020 7383 6448 
Email: [email protected]
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