LONDON—If Britain leaves the European Union without a deal, it will increase the risk of a Europe-wide pandemic, a leading medical association has said.
The BMA laid the blame squarely on the government, saying that planning for the health service in a no-deal scenario had been “too little, too late.” The government has admitted that it is stockpiling medicines in the event that the UK will crash out of the EU without a deal.
The BMA warned that a no-deal Brexit “would create considerable uncertainty about the UK’s ability to coordinate pandemic preparedness planning and response with its European neighbors.”
BMA council chair Dr. Chaand Nagpaul said the organization is backing calls for a vote on the final deal.
“The BMA believes the public should have a final say on the Brexit deal, to reject a ‘no-deal’ and all the risks that such an outcome carries,” he said in an editorial accompanying the report.
“Some will say the BMA is scaremongering by warning of the dangers of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, but this is not the case,” he added. “As experts in delivering health services and providing care for our patients, we have a duty to set out the consequences of leaving the EU with no future deal in place.”
In a worst-case scenario, the BMA said there might be no reciprocal health arrangements between the UK and the EU. That would mean thousands of UK nationals who currently live in the EU would need to use the NHS for their health care. The BMA estimates this could cost 500 million pounds to 1 billion pounds extra per year.
Other potential scenarios that could result from a no-deal Brexit include EU nationals being unable to work for the NHS; uncertainty about the UK’s medical regulation; disruption to timely access to medical radioisotopes used in treating cancer; and difficulty diagnosing as many as 1 million people who have rare diseases.
“We should be under no illusion—if we fail to reach a good agreement on the EU and UK’s future relationship, that could be a significant threat to public health,” Niall Dickson, co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, said in a statement. “This cannot and should not be ignored.”
“We need strong coordination in dealing with cross-border health threats, and alignment with EU standards for food, safety of medicines, transplant organs, and the environment.”
The BMA’s warnings come as Brexit negotiations enter their final phase. Many companies and institutions across the UK have expressed fears that customs, border, and trading arrangements won’t be in place by March 2019.
There are around 70 contingency measures due to be announced by the government to advise British citizens and businesses on how to prepare should a no-deal scenario happen.
The national crime commissioner warned two weeks ago that crashing out of the EU with no deal poses a potential risk to public safety.
Amazon’s UK boss has warned that the country could face “civil unrest” if Britain leaves the EU without a deal.
On Aug. 3, Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney said the chances of a no-deal Brexit had become “uncomfortably high.”
In late July, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the Department of Health and Social Care is stockpiling drugs and medical supplies in the event of a disruption to UK ports.
“We are working right across government to ensure that the health sector and the industry are prepared, and that people’s health will be safeguarded in the event of a no-deal Brexit,” Hancock told members of Parliament.