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Analysis

Brexit is bad for health. We need a people’s vote

by Luke Lythgoe | 24.05.2018

Public health professionals and a leading medical journal are supporting a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal. They urge medical staff across the country to share the facts of Brexit with their patients and the wider community, stressing the harm that leaving the EU will do to our health service.

Public health doctors Mike Gill and Martin McKee, writing together with BMJ editor Fiona Godlee and Best For Britain’s Mark Malloch Brown, argue that no matter how they voted in the referendum, medical professionals can no longer ignore the fact that “Brexit in any form so far discussed is bad for health”.

“If we knew that an infectious agent posed a serious threat to the health of our population and we could prevent it, then we would have no hesitation in demanding and ensuring that something be done,” they argue. “Yet when we are faced with clear evidence that political decisions will cause harm, many of us feel we should be silent.”

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Leaving the EU is bad for healthcare on many levels. The Brexit vote is already exacerbating staffing shortages in hospitals and medical services. There are 62,000 EU nationals working in the NHS – that’s 5.6% of the total staff. This proportion is higher in certain areas of the country.

Since the Brexit vote we’ve seen a net exodus, with more nurses from other EU countries leaving the NHS than joining, reversing the trend before the referendum. The NHS currently has 40,000 nursing vacancies – we can’t afford to lose any.

Other roles are being affected too. One survey revealed 60% of EU doctors are thinking of leaving the UK, with Brexit cited as a factor by most of them. At the current rate of departure, there will be no EU-born midwives left in the NHS in a decade, according to the Royal College of Midwives.

On the macro level, Brexit will hit our economy, meaning less money in government coffers to spend on public services. A recent report by Global Future found even the softest possible Brexit, the so-called Norway option, would reduce public finances by a figure equivalent to 9% of the NHS 2018 budget.

Brexit is happening at a time when the NHS needs more funding than ever. If there are to be even modest improvements to care over the next 15 years then households will have to pay an extra £2,000 per year in tax, warn think tanks the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation. That extra £350 million a week is looking like a bad joke.

Brexit will have all sorts of other knock-on effects too. If we leave Europe’s nuclear material regulator, Euratom, without our own new safeguards in place, it could disrupt transportation of radioactive isotopes used to treat cancer. Leaving the single market could disrupt the supply of medical equipment. Meanwhile the US is looking to push up the prices of US drugs to the NHS as part of trade talks with the UK.

The public was promised Brexit would be good for the NHS. It’s clearly the opposite: it’s a health risk to the health service. That’s why we need a people’s vote, once the final Brexit deal reveals the full extent of the damage.

Edited by Quentin Peel

2 Responses to “Brexit is bad for health. We need a people’s vote”

  • The obvious place for this kind of information is the waiting rooms of GPs and hospitals. Given the bias of the elderly to vote for Brexit it should make for interesting discussions and significant increases in blood pressure.

  • The problem with any anti brexit information is that most brexiters no longer keep up to date with political issues – they either think brexit has already happened or they have returned to their normal diet of rubbish news as they are by and large uneducated morons.