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No deal Brexit could be ‘catastrophic’ for public health, BMA predicts


By Beth Gault
16 August 2018

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A ‘no-deal’ Brexit could have ‘catastrophic consequences’ for the health sector, according to the BMA.

The lack of a deal come March 2019 would affect the treatment of patients, the health workforce, services and the nation’s health, said a BMA briefing paper published today.

The impact would weaken the UK’s response to pandemics, as the country would lose out on partnerships with key EU organisations, such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the BMA warned.

It could also disrupt treatment of rare diseases for nearly one million people, including 150,000 Britons, as the UK would be excluded from the European Rare Disease Network.

The end of reciprocal healthcare agreements could significantly increase healthcare costs, according to the report. There are currently 190,000 UK state pensioners signed up to the S1 scheme – through which the UK government pays for the health costs of its pensioners living in other EU countries.

If there was no deal and this group of pensioners was to return to the UK to receive care, it could cost the NHS between £500 million and £1 billion per year, said the BMA.

With less than eight months until the UK leaves the EU, the BMA warned that continued uncertainty over immigration could also see the country lose key medical staff, such as doctors and nurses, with many EU citizens working in these professions likely to leave the UK – at a time when there are ‘already huge shortages of these roles’.

At the moment, around 7.7% of doctors in the UK are from EEA countries.

A 2017 BMA survey of close to 2,000 EEA doctors revealed that nearly half, 45%, were considering leaving the UK as a result of Brexit. Of this percentage, 39% had already made concrete plans to do so.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said these warnings were not scaremongering, but a question of being honest about ‘what is at stake’ for the health service.

Dr Nagpaul said: ‘The consequences of a “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.’

The BMA has called for the Government to allow the public to have the final say on the Brexit deal, ‘now that more is known regarding the potential impact of Brexit on the NHS and the nation’s health’.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We want a deal with the EU that is good for the UK and good for the health service. That is why we have continued to work closely with the European Union to ensure there is no disruption to the NHS after we leave.’

‘Alongside that, we are continuing to work with industry in the unlikely event of a no-deal Brexit so patients continue to receive top quality care.’

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