A no-deal Brexit would have a “catastrophic” impact on the NHS and “dramatically exacerbate” problems such as cancelled operations, increased waiting times, and missed treatment targets during winter months, doctors’ leaders have warned.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said Britain’s departure from the EU on 31 October without an agreement would “severely damage” the health service, with no area of healthcare “untouched.”
Having already endured two consecutive crisis-hit winters, the BMA warned the reality of no deal would make things worse and render “the disintegration of the health service an ever more real prospect.”
In a new briefing paper assessing the impact of no deal, the association said leaving without a deal in place would lead to “considerable uncertainty” about the UK’s ability to ensure a continuous supply of medicines into the country.
It would also, it says, jeopardise supplies of medical radioisotopes, which have a range of applications in medicine, including the treatment of cancer through radiotherapy, as well as palliative relief of pain and biochemical analysis in clinical pathology.
Spelling out the dangers, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “The BMA has been clear of the danger that Brexit poses to the NHS, its staff and patients – a no deal will severely damage our health service and the nation’s health. From disruption to essential medicine supplies, patient healthcare and the loss of highly skilled doctors, to the potential return of a hard border in Northern Ireland, no area of health will be left unscathed by a no-deal.”
He added: “The consequences will be catastrophic.”
The BMA paper, entitled “A health service on the brink: the dangers of a no deal Brexit,” poses scores of questions for the UK government on areas such as reciprocal healthcare arrangements, medical research, and the impact on the healthcare sector of any trade agreements.
It also calls on the public to be given the “final say” on Brexit, arguing that they should be given an “informed choice” on leaving the EU.
Last month, health union leaders, including the BMA, joined forces to caution that a no-deal Brexit could “devastate” the NHS.
In a joint statement – signed by 11 organisations including the Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Midwives, Unison, GMB, Unite and the TUC – they called on the UK government to take no-deal off the table.
The latest warning comes as documents leaked to the Sunday Times reveal officials have been unable to stockpile a range of medicines used for patients with conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, and the chronic pain condition trigeminal neuralgia.