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Impact on Health and Social Care should be centre-stage in Brexit negotiations.


With Brexit negotiations now underway this week the potential adverse impact on health and social care needs to be considered. The  British Medical Association, the voice of doctors in the UK, is calling on the government to protect future patient care by putting healthcare "front and centre" of its plans.

There can be little doubt that unless staffing issues are resolved the potential harm of Brexit to  health and social care is considerable.  The government should act speedily to resolve the uncertainty. 

Many health and social care professionals currently working in the UK have come from other EU countries, including 55,000 of the NHS’s 1.3 million workforce and 80,000 of the 1.3 million workers in the adult social care sector.   The NHS is currently struggling to recruit and retain staff.  Unless the future of NHS  and social care staff can be settled, then this problem is set to get worse with a deepening NHS and social care crisis.  

Since the vote to leave the EU, the BMA has been calling on the government to:
  • Give the 10,000 highly skilled EU doctors and medical researchers in the UK  permanent residence in the UK.  42 per cent of whom have told the BMA that are considering leaving in light of Brexit.
  • Ensure a flexible immigration system which meets the needs of the UK health service and medical research sector.
  • Preserve existing reciprocal arrangements, including mutual recognition of professional qualifications and measures which protect patient safety.
  • Secure ongoing access to EU research programmes and research funding, to maintain the UK's world-leading science and research base. 
  • Ensure Brexit does not hinder the UK's ability to play a leading role in European and international efforts to tackle global health threats.

Commenting ahead of the start of negotiations, Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair said last week:

“With the NHS at breaking point, the government must keep the health service and its patients at the forefront during Brexit negotiations and control the impact that leaving the EU will have on health and social care across the UK."
The BMA warn that leaving the EU poses several risks to healthcare across the UK, not least in its staffing as almost half of the 10,000 doctors working here are considering leaving in light of the referendum result.

"These doctors have enhanced the UK’s medical research, brought expertise to the NHS and higher education, and filled shortages in specialties which may otherwise have been unable to cope. While we welcome the government’s pledge to provide certainty for EU nationals working in the NHS, the time has come for it to deliver fully on those repeated promises by providing them with permanent residence in the UK.

The BMA also call on the government to ensure long-term stability for the NHS by protecting life-changing medical research which benefits from European funding; ensuring that leaving the EU will not delay the UK’s access to vital pharmaceuticals, guaranteeing that leaving the EU will not hinder our efforts to tackle global health threats, and maintaining a soft border between Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland to help ensure that cross-border health services and patient access to healthcare are not affected by leaving the EU.

The government must not use these workers as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations.  Guarantees should now be given that such workers can stay in the UK.

Update added 23rd June 2017 following Prime Minister's proposals on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK

Responding to the Prime Minister's proposals on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK following Brexit, Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair has said:

“While we recognise these proposals are a starting position, they leave many unanswered questions, and only the full detail will show the potential impact they could have on medical research, and the NHS and its workforce.

“There are around 150,000 EU nationals working in the NHS and adult social care system in England. Already we know that more than four in ten doctors from the EU are considering leaving the UK in light of the referendum, with a further one in five unsure. 

“To provide stability to the NHS in the longer term, all EU doctors and academic staff currently in the UK should be granted permanent residence, regardless of how long they have been here.” 

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