The doctors union warned in a new briefing paper shared with The Independent on Thursday that crashing out of the EUwithout a deal will leave the UK more vulnerable to outbreaks of deadly infectious diseases.
It says that the UK’s ability to coordinate responses to emerging threats, such as the current outbreak of measles or seasonal flu, will be seriously undermined, making it harder to stop infections spreading across borders.
With UK government admitting it is stockpiling medicines in the event of a no-deal scenario, the British Medical Association warns this is proof that the devastating impact of Brexit on the nation’s health has been neglected.
It comes as more than 600,000 people have backed The Independent’sFinal Say campaign – also supported by the BMA – to ensure the public can choose the country’s course on Brexit.
All parties will be weakened if the UK’s quits key EU bodies such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in March 2019, the BMA said. Without a deal this will create “considerable uncertainty about the UK’s ability to coordinate pandemic preparedness”: these are risks that should be put to the UK public, it said.
Added to this is the failure to settle payment arrangements for UK citizens needing treatment in the EU which could prevent them accessing care immediately and “increase the likelihood of the spread of disease”.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the pledged deal that would benefit patients, the NHS and its staff in the next eight months appeared to be out of reach.
“The BMA believes the public should have a final informed say on the Brexit deal and, to reject the notion of a ‘no deal’ given all the serious risks that such an outcome carries,” he added.
“Some will say the BMA is scaremongering by warning of the dangers of a no-deal Brexit, but this is not the case ... As experts in delivering health services and providing care for our patients, we have a duty to set out the consequences of leaving the EU with no future deal in place.”
Other issues raised by the BMA include the risk to UK patients if the General Medical Council can no longer access the EU’s central reporting systems to check for concerns about staff coming to work in the UK.
Approximately 10 per cent of the NHS doctors qualified in the EU and the current system recognises these qualifications automatically. This is crucial to the government’s plan to attract as many as 3,000 GPs from the continent to fill current shortages in England, but with 45 per cent of EU staff considering leaving it is likely to make matters much worse.
It could also have a heavy toll on the NHS in Northern Ireland. The current system to automatically recognise the qualifications earned in other EU states could mean medical students training in the Republic of Ireland have to jump through extra hoops to work.
“Infectious diseases do not respect borders and we need to tackle them together,” Niall Dickson, co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, said.
“We should be under no illusion – if we fail to reach a good agreement on the EU and UK’s future relationship, that could be a significant threat to public health. This cannot and should not be ignored.”
Professor Paul Cosford, medical director at Public Health England, said: “The UK is a world leader in tackling serious cross-border threats to health and has a well-developed health protection system.
“In addition, we use and benefit from a range of international information-sharing tools in the area of health security including European Union mechanisms, among others. We believe it is in everyone’s interests to continue to collaborate closely going forward.”
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 to ensure patients can continue to receive top quality care.”