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Feature Cross border care

An unhealthy Brexit: uncertainty threatens UK and Irish medicine, say doctors

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 13 March 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l1098
  1. Niamh Griffin, journalist, Belfast
  1. niamh.griffin21{at}

Clinicians are concerned for patients and the NHS workforce, as many critical medical questions remain unanswered with only weeks till Brexit, as Niamh Griffin reports

At a meeting in Belfast on 26 February more than 150 doctors from medical royal colleges in Ireland, Scotland, and England found little that was positive for health after the UK leaves the European Union, due on 29 March.

The seminar, brainchild of Mary Horgan, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and a consultant in infectious diseases and internal medicine, considered Brexit’s potential effects on workforce and the safety of patients.

Jackie Taylor, a geriatrician and president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, emphasised that the colleges are apolitical but added, “As clinicians we are used to working with uncertainty, but this takes uncertainty to a completely different level.

“The question is: will Brexit be bad for the health of the NHS?” But with less than a month to go, she said, “things remain stubbornly opaque.”

Diminished funding

A healthy Brexit must include, Taylor said, maintaining current standards of care and not increasing workforce challenges when changing immigration rules for non-UK staff. She also highlighted concerns that funding for health may be diminished in a post-Brexit world.

“The NHS currently, in real terms, increases its budget by only about 1% per year [across the UK1], and that hasn’t been enough to keep up with demand. Things would be worse if we have a no-deal Brexit, but we don’t know that yet. I’m afraid the magic money tree that was promised probably doesn’t exist,” she said to muted laughter.

She was referring to …

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