Today government tensions have come to the fore after Theresa May rebuked Philip Hammond for claiming that a no-deal Brexit would result in an £80bn blackhole in the public finances.
The rebuke is another exercise by the Prime Minister in placating the 60 hardline Conservative Brexiteers gathered around the European Research Group (ERG). And yet again it demonstrates that Theresa May is willing to put the interests of the Tory Party above those of the country and the NHS.
The dangers a no deal Brexit poses to the NHS are clear for all to see. As my colleague Dr Louise Irvine has stated in another article, they include but are not limited to:
- Exacerbating the recruitment and retention crisis in NHS and social care staffing as we will no longer be able to recruit EU staff or assure current staff they have a secure future in the UK
- Significant delays and increasing costs in obtaining medicines and health technologies, in particular medicines with a short shelf life such as insulin, as well as radio-isotopes for cancer testing and treatment. This includes risks to the import of human tissues such as transplant organs which currently have approval for very swift transit
- Significant delays in accessing new drugs as a consequence of leaving the European Medicines Regulatory Agency
- Loss of cross border collaboration to protect against public health threats such as infectious disease pandemics and anti-microbial resistance
- Loss of medical research funding (of which the UK is a net beneficiary) and research collaboration, including for rare diseases
- Loss of reciprocal health care for British people travelling in Europe, and the risk that UK pensioners living in Europe will lose their rights to free health care and be forced to return to the UK
- Weakening of regulations to ensure food, air and water quality and chemicals, pesticides, waste disposal and climate change protection
- Risks to the health of people in Northern Ireland as a hard border will mean that staff and patients will no longer be able to cross the border freely to provide or receive health care
The Prime Minister’s rebuke has come on the same day that research by the Labour Party shows that almost of half of maternity units in England were closed at least once to expectant mothers in 2017.
Labour submitted freedom of information (FOI) requests to all 135 hospital trusts in England, and found that of the 89 Trusts that responded there was a total of 287 occasions when maternity units were closed to expectant mothers.
The most cited reasons for the closures were staffing shortages and a lack of capacity.
If there was a starker reminder of the dangers that Brexit poses to the NHS, then this is it.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) previously reported that the uptake in EU nurses joining the NMC register is at its lowest point since records began and that between 2017 and April 2018 3,962 EEA staff dropped off the register.
The Royal College of Nursing reacting to the news has also pointed out that there is currently a shortage of 3,500 midwifes across the UK.
Crashing out of the EU without a deal, and thereby imperilling the public finances and undermining our ability to recruit EU staff will not solve this problem.
It is time the Prime Minister spelt out the dangers that Brexit poses to the UK and to the NHS.
She must state unequivocally that no-deal is off the table.
It is the people who suffer when the NHS suffers.
They deserve a vote on the final deal. After all, didn’t many vote Leave because they thought the NHS would be better, not worse?
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