Senior GPs and NHS organisations have warned that uncertainty following the referendum result risks undermining NHS recruitment and retention, and has left thousands of EU nationals working in the NHS anxious about their future.
The comments come after the UK voted by 51.9% to 48.1% in favour of quitting the EU. A day before the referendum, GPonline revealed that the vast majority of GPs were in favour of remaining within the EU, and that more than half were concerened that a vote to leave would undermine the NHS.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said the vote was 'clearly a step into the unknown'.
'For the NHS and the nation as a whole, the real challenge is a period of instability that will happen over the coming months and years, because of the impact on the economy and in turn the impact on funding of the NHS.'
Dr Vautrey warned that a new prime ministerr - likely to be in post by October 2016 after David Cameron suggested a successor should be in place in time for the Conservative party conference later this year - may set a 'new direction for the NHS'.
He said there were many unanswered questions, and urged NHS leaders and ministers to be mindful of the impact uncertainty could have on the morale of the 'many thousands of people from outside the UK who support and work in our NHS'.
Dr Vautrey added: 'We know there is a crisis in general practice. Anything that causes further uncertainty could have an impact on recruitment and retention. We need to wait now and find out exactly what actions will be taken. We need clarity and I am sure everyone will want some fairly clear messages from the government and NHS England on what their plans are to maintain stability in the NHS and funding for the NHS.'
NHS Brexit reaction
Londonwide LMCs chief executive Dr Michelle Drage said: 'From London's viewpoint the decision of voters outside our city is going to compound all the challenges we have been faced with and continue to try to manage across the capital.
'Now, more than ever, we need to ensure we have the strongest general practice service targeted to help those in most need.
'At a time when the financial stability and sustainability of general practice is under immense pressure, the campaign pledge of an extra £350m per year invested into the NHS would make a huge difference. And we will take a close interest in how that is delivered.'
A BMA spokesman said: 'In the aftermath of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, the BMA reaffirms its commitment to working with our European partners and the European Union to safeguard the future of our profession and the patients we serve. We urge politicians not to play games with the UK's health services as the country faces a new future. We stand together as one profession with our colleagues from Europe and across the world, with whom we live, work and study and on whom the NHS depends,' a BMA spokesman said.
NHS Confederation chief executive Stephen Dalton said: 'The NHS has broadly benefitted from being in the EU and leaving it will undoubtedly have implications which are yet to be clearly understood. The priorities for those who lead and are on the frontline of delivering NHS funded services are the sustainability and quality of patient care.
'It is impossible to predict the full impact at this stage, but clearly it is vital that our government seeks a strong, nuanced agreement with the European Union that recognises how interwoven NHS and EU policies have become.
'NHS organisations and our partners in social and community care will be anxious to see how this decision affects recruitment, economic stability, legislation and their local efforts to transform care.
'The NHS’s top priority will be to adapt to the new circumstances and continue its high quality services for patients. The NHS Confederation, through our European Office will be working in Brussels and the UK to ensure the needs of the NHSand its patients are understood throughout this process.'
Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)
ABPI chief executive Mike Thompson said: ‘The voice of the British people has been heard. This creates immediate challenges for future investment, research and jobs in our industry in the UK. With that being the case, we are committed to working closely with the government to agree what steps need to be taken to send a strong signal that the UK is open for business.’