Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid Response:

Re: Assessing the health effects of a “no deal” Brexit

May van Schalkwyk and colleagues provide a compelling analysis of the possible risks of a no-deal Brexit[1]. As a final year medical student looking forward to starting work as a doctor, I have also been thinking about the potential longer-term impacts on patient safety of leaving the European Union.

Brexit, and particularly the possibility of a no deal Brexit, carries well-documented risks, including difficulties in funding the health service, and the supply of medications and technology[2]. This threatens to put extra pressures on the NHS. As medical students, we have not yet had a chance to settle into our working lives, and as the political climate has become more turbulent, I’ve heard more and more talented and dedicated people begin to consider taking their careers abroad. EU students in particular have much less reason to attempt to build careers in the UK, when the rhetoric surrounding Brexit risks making them feel less welcome, and their future status in this country is uncertain. In fact, a 2017 BMA survey found that 45% of EU doctors in the EU were considering leaving the UK[3].

I’m concerned that a no deal Brexit will push people away from wanting to work in the NHS, with enduring impacts at a time when it will inevitably be suffering under even greater pressures. An overstretched workforce, potentially becoming more so as the consequences of Brexit become clearer, is yet another threat to patient safety[4] that must be addressed.


[1] Von Schalkwyk MCI, Barlow P, Stuckler D, Rae M, Lang T, Hervey T, McKee M. Assessing the health effects of a “no deal” Brexit. BMJ. 2019;366 Available from: doi:10.1136/bmj.l5300
[2] Fahy N, Hervey T, Greer S, Jarman H, Stuckler D, Galsworthy M, McKee M. How will Brexit affect health and health services in the UK? Evaluating three possible scenarios. Lancet. 2017;390(10107): 2110-2118. Available from: doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(17)31926-8
[3] British Medical Association. EU Survery 2017. 2017. Available from:
[4] Hall LH, Johnson J, Watt I, Tsipa A, O’Connor DB. Healthcare staff wellbeing, burnout, and patient safety: a systematic review. PLoS One. 2016;11(7): e0159015. Available from: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0159015

Competing interests: No competing interests

10 September 2019
Katherine J Read
Medical student
London, UK