Healthcare should be 'front and centre' in Brexit negotiations, MPs warn

Healthcare should be a central issue in talks between the UK government and the EU over Brexit because of the threat to the NHS workforce, the House of Commons health select committee has warned.

A report released by the committee on Friday warns that Brexit will affect 'many aspects of the provision of health and social care in England'.

'Over 60,000 people from EU countries outside the UK work in the English NHS and around 90,000 in adult social care. Post-Brexit we will continue to need, and benefit from the presence of EU staff in health and social care,' the committee warns.

The report says that Brexit has had an 'unwelcome' impact on the morale of these staff, and left them facing uncertainty over their right to stay in the UK and confusion over requirements for comprehensive sickness insurance.

The committee adds: 'Many of the issues relevant to health and social care that will require negotiation do not fit neatly into the EU’s legal definition of ‘health’ policy. We urge the government to put fundamental health concerns front and centre of the British negotiating priorities.'

Brexit impact on NHS

However, the report suggested that Brexit could provide an opportunity to agree 'a more pragmatic approach to the mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive within the British regulatory model'. The GMC has previously expressed concerns over how EU rules restricted language testing on EU doctors, but secured powers in 2014 to ban doctors whose English language skills were poor

MPs also highlighted concerns around UK citizens requiring healthcare in the EU post-Brexit, and questioned whether the DH had enough dedicated staff working on the implications of leaving the EU.

Doctors' leaders reiterated calls for EU medical staff to be given assurances over their future in the UK.

BMA chair Dr Mark Porter said: 'This report is right to point out that the impact on morale from Brexit is concerning and unwelcome. For the thousands of European doctors working in the UK, Brexit has led to anxiety and uncertainty as to whether they and their families will have the right to stay here.'

NHS workforce

He highlighted findings from a BMA poll earlier this year that showed the UK could lose 4,000 doctors because of Brexit.

Dr Porter added: 'The committee has also cast a shadow over Jeremy Hunt’s plans by recognising that England will not be self-sufficient in its supply of doctors until the end of the next decade at the very earliest. Closing our borders to medical staff from anywhere overseas would be terrible for patient care.'

The BMA chair urged the government to offer assurances to EU medical staff on their rights to live and work in the UK, 'including the offer of permanent residence'.

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