Responding to a question at the RCGP annual conference in Glasgow last week, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said she had ‘wrestled’ with whether the college should take a political stance on Brexit.
She 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,’ Professor Stokes-Lampard 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.
‘What we haven’t done is take a position on the second referendum and in fact a lot of people would like us to do so,’ she said. ‘Our trustees are discussing the risk to the charity of us having that conversation and taking advice from the lawyers.
‘I would love us to have a debate, I think it’s important even if we can’t take a position on it. I think it’s important that people feel their voices are heard and they know that we care.’
Professor Stokes-Lampard added that the prospect of a no-deal Brexit ‘really scares me’.
As a union the BMA can take political positions and it voted to back a second referendum on the final Brexit deal at its annual representatives' meeting in June this year. The BMA also recently warned that a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for the NHS.
Also speaking at the conference Professor Laura Serrant, professor of nursing at Sheffield Halam University, warned that the recent Windrush scandal, which saw people with Caribbean backgrounds wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights, could be a small example of ‘what we might see post-Brexit if there is not a clear plan going ahead’.
‘The NHS system and the arrival of the Windrush generation are inexplicably tied,’ she said. ‘The large majority of people on that boat were nurses, doctors and healthcare professionals to staff and support the NHS that had just launched and found itself short of people.
'I feel history is repeating itself. I just think politicians needs to start thinking about the impact [of Brexit] on people – whether that’s patients or workforce.’
Earlier in the conference Scotland's cabinet secretary for sport and health Jeanne Freeman said that Brexit had made it 'even more difficult' to be a GP. 'What we have is uncertainty and anxiety at a time when we need confidence,' she said. She said she had written to all of Scotland's health boards to emphasise that all EU citizens working in the Scottish NHS were welcome.