College leaders debated concerns over recruitment, retention, public health and medical supplies and agreed that 'the objective, non-partisan evidence in relation to the deleterious effects of Brexit on health and healthcare means that the college should oppose Brexit'.
The college's aim to 'encourage, foster and maintain the highest possible standards in general medical practice’ would be 'grievously undermined' by Brexit, its council agreed.
RCGP leaders also voiced concerns over cross-border healthcare arrangements in Ireland and the impact of leaving the EU on the quality of scientific collaboration and research.
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘The level of feeling by UK Council – who have been elected by the membership to represent their interests – was that the risks of Brexit to the NHS and patient safety and care were significant enough to take a stance.’
College leaders voted in favour of two motions - one opposing Brexit, and another backing calls for a 'people's vote' - a second referendum. The motion to oppose Brexit was passed with 46 voting for it, 11 against and six abstentions, while the motion to support a people’s vote was passed with 38 voting for, 18 voting against and seven abstaining.
The college's decision formally to oppose Brexit comes just over a month after Professor Stokes-Lampard told the RCGP conference in Glasgow that the college was taking legal advice over whether it could back a second referendum. The RCGP is now considering its next steps.
At the conference in October, Professor Stokes-Lampard said that a ‘lot of people’ wanted the college to take a position on a second referendum on the final Brexit deal.
‘As a charity we can’t take a party political stance on anything,’ she explained. ‘It doesn’t stop us having views, it doesn’t stop us caring about our patients.’
She said that the college could have a view on elements of Brexit that relate to patients’ health and pointed out that it had signed joint statements with the medical royal colleges and the Faculty of Public Health Medicine relating to the impact of Brexit.
On Sunday, EU leaders approved Prime minister Theresa May’s controversial Brexit agreement at a summit in Brussels after 20 months of negotiations..
The UK parliament is due to vote on the deal on 12 December. If MPs reject Mrs May’s deal it will significantly increase the likelihood of a ‘no deal’ Brexit - a prospect which Professor Stokes-Lampard told the RCGP conference ‘really scares me’.
The BMA has argued that a ‘no deal’ scenario would be ‘catastrophic’ for both patients and the wider NHS. BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said earlier this year: 'The UK government has finally started planning to ensure the health sector and industry are prepared in the short term for a no deal Brexit, but this is too little, too late and quite frankly, proof that the impact on the NHS has not received the attention it deserves in the Brexit negotiations.’
Motions backed by the RCGP council:
- The Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners believes that the objective, non-partisan evidence in relation to the deleterious effects of Brexit on health and healthcare means that the College should oppose Brexit, because the object for which the College is incorporated is ‘to encourage, foster and maintain the highest possible standards in general medical practice’; because the College is obliged ‘to take or join with others in taking any steps consistent with the charitable nature of that object’; and that object would be grievously undermined by Brexit.
- The Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners believes that the public should have a final say on the Brexit deal, including the options of accepting the deal, rejecting the deal, and remaining within the European Union.