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Rapid response to:

Feature EU Referendum and Health

Brexit should come with a health warning for the NHS, public health, and research

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 14 June 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i3295

Rapid Response:

Re: Brexit should come with a health warning for the NHS, public health, and research

A decision to leave the EU would have significant implications for health in the UK. Around 50,000 people from the European Economic Area, including 9,000 doctors, provide a vital contribution to the NHS by plugging the gap left by key shortages in its workforce. The EU has established standards across member states for the training of doctors and health professionals. A vote to leave the EU would make future recruitment more difficult as the UK would have to negotiate with each EU country separately to ensure that doctors and other health professionals recruited to work in the UK are trained to the same standards expected from UK-trained staff.

Residents of the UK who visit other EU countries either as tourists or on business would lose their right to free or low-cost health care, which is currently obtained via the European Health Insurance Card. The right to publicly-funded healthcare of the two million citizens of the UK who live permanently in other European countries would also come under threat.

The UK government would also be under no obligation to implement European-wide public health initiatives if the UK was no longer a member. These have had a major positive impact in areas such as food regulations, road safety, air pollution, tobacco control and chemical hazards. We may find our government less willing to support such initiatives, particularly those that required action against large multi-national corporations over which any single government has only limited influence.

Majeed A et al. How would a decision to leave the European Union affect medical research and health in the United Kingdom? JRSM 2016; 109: 216-218.

Competing interests: Azeem Majeed has received funding for research from the European Union

15 June 2016
Azeem Majeed
Professor of Primary Care
Imperial College London
Department of Primary Care and Public Health, Imperial College London, London W6 8RP