The British National Audit Office (NAO) has released an assessment of the possible repercussions that a no-deal Brexit could result in for the UK's National Health Service (NHS), providing an unnerving forecast – the government's measures may not be enough to cope with issues that could arise after London leaves the EU. The latter may happen as soon as 31 October, if Prime Minister Boris Johnson succeeds in overcoming parliamentary obstacles to a no-deal Brexit or negotiates a new agreement with Brussels.
Martin McKee, a professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, believes that the NAO gave "an accurate assessment of the situation" relating to the NHS in a no-deal scenario, but added that the body’s insight is limited.
"There is no way of knowing what may happen at the UK/EU border when the UK leaves the EU. Thus, it concentrates on transport and storage and does not go into detail about the legal and administrative challenges of importing medicines and related products", he said.
McKee indicated that the first problems that the British NHS would encounter under a no-deal scenario would be shortages of medicines and consumables. Doctor Chaand Nagpaul, the council chair of the British Medical Association, in turn indicated that the government hasn't even finished stockpiling six weeks of reserves of medicines, let alone addressed the possibility of no-deal Brexit chaos lasting longer than that.
However, some of the effects wouldn't be immediately apparent – such as possible staffing problems or issues with maintaining sophisticated equipment, Professor McKee said. For example, scanners are maintained by engineers, who currently operate under EU freedom of movement rules.
"[A no-deal Brexit] will be catastrophic, perhaps not immediately, but over time", he concluded.
Doctor Nagpaul, in turn, stated that the British NHS would "likely" face an "incredibly difficult winter" if Britain leaves the EU this October. He added that the government's "contingency plans" wouldn’t be able to cover all shortages.
"This report reinforces the BMA’s view that every effort must be made to ensure a no-deal Brexit does not happen, and that supplies to our shores are uninterrupted, and patient care, above all, is protected", he said.
Even apart from possible looming Brexit repercussions, the British NHS has been facing problems for years. Namely, the system lacks personnel, funding, while its infrastructure is largely considered to be "impoverished".
In a bid to resolve the issues, former Prime Minister Theresa May introduced measures to boost NHS funding by 3.5% each year, which were only outlined for England, largely leaving Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to find their own solutions to the NHS crisis.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to take the UK out of the European Union on 31 October even if he fails to negotiate a new agreement, one that excludes the backstop clause, with Brussels by that time, meaning that a no-deal scenario has not been excluded. At the same time, a significant number of MPs do not consider a no-deal exit to be an acceptable outcome.
In September, British lawmakers passed a bill essentially forcing the prime minister to delay Brexit once again if a new deal is not reached by 31 October. Boris Johnson and his team are reportedly seeking a loophole in the bill to deliver on his promise.
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