Public Release: 

Brexit is bad for our health

Experts call on health professionals to back demand for a 'people's vote' to protect public health


Brexit is bad for our health and can be prevented, argue experts in The BMJ today.

Public health doctors, Mike Gill and Martin McKee, together with Mark Malloch Brown of Best for Britain and Fiona Godlee, The BMJ's Editor in chief, say "whatever our views as individuals, or how we voted in the 2016 referendum, we can no longer escape the fact that Brexit in any form so far discussed is bad for health."

As such they call on UK health professionals to help mobilise public opinion for a "people's vote" on the details of any deal negotiated by the government to protect public health.

They point to a report published last month by the think tank Global Future, which says that the "Norway" option, by which the UK would remain in the European Economic Area, would reduce public finances by a figure equivalent to 9% of the NHS 2018 budget.

The "Canada" option, involving a future free trade agreement, would see funding cut by 31%; no deal by 44%; and the government's preferred option--if it is achievable, which most commentators doubt--by 22%, they add.

There are also severe threats to the supply of health workers, access to pharmaceuticals, medical isotopes (essential for some cancer treatments), health technology, and much else, they warn. Meanwhile, improvements to health are stalling, with several years of austerity taking its toll.

As public health advocates "we can document the impact that the threat of Brexit is already having on NHS patients and staff, with increasing accounts of shortages of health workers," they say.

As citizens "we can lobby our MPs. Some can spread the message through social media." As professionals "we can share the facts with each other, and with our patients and the wider community," they add.

"If we knew that an infectious agent posed a serious threat to the health of our population and we could prevent it, then we would have no hesitation in demanding and ensuring that something be done. Yet when we are faced with clear evidence that political decisions will cause harm, many of us feel we should be silent."

Ultimately, politicians decide, "but we have a responsibility to ensure that they do so on the best evidence available, regardless of where the threat comes from. With Brexit, the evidence is now very clear," they conclude.


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