A no-deal Brexit ‘will have a devastating impact on the NHS’, the British Medical Association have warned.
Leaving on October 31 without a deal at a time when the health service is preparing for winter – when hospitals and GP surgeries face the greatest strain on their services – could push the system to the ‘brink’, the union have stated.
In a briefing paper published today entitled ‘A health service on the brink: the dangers of a ‘no deal’ Brexit’, the BMA sets out a stark warning to government about the risks Brexit poses to the NHS.
As well as stressing the uncertainty surrounding a no-deal Brexit for healthcare in the United Kingdom, the report also specifically outlines the concerns associated with the withdrawal date coinciding with a potential winter crisis across the service.
The NHS has faced two consecutive winters during which hospitals and GP surgeries have been left at crisis point, and the BMA expects similar conditions for this year too.
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 paper also demands answers from the government to more than 40 urgent questions surrounding Brexit-related uncertainties such as the NHS workforce, access to medicines, healthcare in Northern Ireland, and medical research.
Dr Nagpaul said the association had been clear about the risks to the NHS associated with Brexit and restated their consensus that no-deal would ‘severely damage’ the UK’s health as a whole – describing the consequences as ‘catastrophic’.
He added: “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.”