‘No deal’ Brexit would have ‘catastrophic’ effect on health, warns BMA

The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that a “no deal” Brexit would have a catastrophic impact on the nation’s health, claiming there is still too much uncertainty around the effect Brexit will have on patients, doctors and the NHS.

A briefing paper published this week suggests that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal covering immigration, the rights of EU workers in the UK and medical regulation, patients could face huge delays and disruption.

It said a worse-case scenario would involve:

  • the UK being excluded from the European Rare Disease Network, causing delays for almost a million patients receiving treatment for rare diseases;
  • the UK being forced to source radioisotopes from outside of Euratom (an organisation that facilitates the secure and consistent supply of radioisotopes), causing delays in cancer diagnosis;
  • reciprocal healthcare agreements coming to an end;
  • the loss of partnerships with key EU bodies such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, thus increasing the chances of diseases spreading and weakening the UK’s response to pandemics;
  • the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland potentially resulting in patients having to travel further to receive care, or doctors leaving the profession; and,
  • fewer medical staff as many leave the UK due to uncertainty over future immigration status and confusion around the recognition of medical qualifications gained in EU countries.

The report – A health service under treat: the dangers of a ‘no deal’ Brexit – noted that approximately 7.7% of doctors currently working in England are graduates from European Economic Area (EEA) countries. They represent 5.7% of doctors in Scotland, 8.8% in Northern Ireland and 6.4% in Wales.

It said a Brexit deal should cover free movement for healthcare and medical research staff, permanent residence for EU doctors and medical researchers currently in the UK and continued rights for EEA medical students to live, train and work in the UK.

It also called for the retention, or comparable replacement, of reciprocal healthcare arrangements and access to healthcare for both UK and EU citizens and the continuation of measures to protect public health standards, including those affecting food, alcohol, air quality, and tobacco regulations.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA council, said: “The consequences of ‘no deal’ could have potentially catastrophic consequences for patients, the health workforce, services and the nation’s health.

“The UK government has finally started planning to ensure the health sector and industry are prepared in the short term for a no deal Brexit, but this is too little, too late and quite frankly, proof that the impact on the NHS has not received the attention it deserves in the Brexit negotiations.

“Some will say we are scaremongering by warning of the dangers of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, but this is not the case. We aren’t shying away from being honest about what is at stake for health services if the UK and the EU fail to reach a deal.”

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