A no-deal Brexit could ‘devastate the NHS’ and leave thousands of nurses and other healthcare staff ‘in limbo’ over their jobs, health leaders have warned in a joint letter to the Government this week.
In the letter published on Thursday (29 August), health unions including the Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of Midwives called on the Government to ‘take no deal off the table’.
They highlighted that health and care staff are the ‘lifeblood’ of the health service ‘consistently going above and beyond’ to deliver care.
‘A no-deal Brexit could devastate the NHS and social care,’ the letter said. ‘And if this government goes ahead with it, health and care workers will be on the frontline.’
The letter went onto warn that a no-deal scenario would leave tens of thousands of health and social care staff from the EU ‘in limbo, intensifying the largest staffing crisis in the services’ history’.
As a result, health leaders urged ministers to ‘unequivocally guarantee the right of European health and care staff to continue to live and work in the UK.’
The letter also brought attention to the ‘thousands of EU staff’ who have already left since the EU referendum in 2016.
‘Long-term economic shock’
In addition, the letter flagged assessments from the treasury that predicted the UK economy would shrink by £90 billion in a no-deal scenario.
A hit to public finances after ‘a decade of austerity’ could have ‘additional knock-on consequences’ on health and social care budgets that are already ‘under immense pressure’, the letter said.
It added: ‘With waiting times rising, operations being cancelled and yet another winter crisis looming, the health service cannot weather a long-term economic shock.’
‘Fatal’ medicine shortages
The letter also referenced concerns raised in the Yellowhammer report, which found a no-deal Brexit could cause ‘significant disruption’ to the supply of medicines lasting up to six months.
‘Many medicines, including life-saving agents for cancer diagnosis and therapy, cannot be stockpiled and for those that can, stockpiles could run out,’ it explained.
‘These kind of shortages and delays can be fatal. No responsible government should take that risk.’
Other signatories included British Medical Association council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady and UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis.
In response to the letter, a Government spokesperson said that the Department of Health and Social Care is doing ‘everything appropriate to prepare for Brexit’.
They continued: ‘We want to reassure patients that we should be fully prepared for leaving on 31 October, whatever the circumstances. We are taking all appropriate steps, meaning our plans should ensure the supply of medicines and medical products remains uninterrupted when we leave the EU.
‘And we have been crystal clear that we want our hardworking EU staff to stay in the UK and continue to perform vital roles across the NHS and social care sector.
‘We’ve also recently committed £1.8bn for the NHS including funding for new hospital upgrades, and the significant healthcare funding increases will continue following Brexit, most notably the extra £33.9bn every year by 2023/24 through the NHS Long Term Plan.’