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Nurse leaders give stark warning over Brexit

‘No progress’ on health and care concerns

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

’Little’ or ‘no progress’ has been made on the areas of concern in health and care identified after the Brexit referendum, according to nurse leaders.

On the eve of the European Council meeting in Brussels to debate the terms of the British exit from the EU, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) today warns there has been ‘little or no progress’ in five priority areas, identified after the referendum in 2016.

Using a traffic light system to assess progress since the referendum on the five priorities for the UK’s Brexit withdrawal arrangements for patients, the public and nursing, the College says none of the areas can be given a green light, and three have red light warnings.

The five key priorities highlighted by the College after the referendum to ensure that Brexit did not harm nursing and health and care services in the UK were: safeguarding the workforce, preserving regulations governing staff and medicines, maintaining public health, protecting workers’ rights, and continuing collaboration on EU-wide research and across nursing organisations. 

The RCN set out to assess progress in the five areas using the following ratings:

  • RED indicates that there has been no firm commitment made by the UK Government on this issue and how to resolve it
  • AMBER denotes some UK Government commitment or statement, but no agreement with the EU on practical application
  • GREEN indicates a firm commitment from the UK Government and the EU, including a commitment to practical implementation

The College found that none of the five areas could be ranked green, while the following three received a red warning:

‘EU regulations on professionals and medicines’. On this, the RCN stated: “The EU Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications (MRPQ) directive has enabled the UK to recruit nurses and doctors from Europe to fill our workforce shortages. It also includes language checks on EU nurses, and a duty on all member states to inform one another about suspended or banned staff. Other EU regulations contribute to the development and approval of new medicines and medical devices, and provide for participation by British patients in clinical trials. With less than six months to go before the UK leaves the EU, it is still unclear how Brexit will affect these important areas.”

A second Red warning was given for ‘public health’.

“Continuing to address public health threats collaboratively with the rest of the EU, particularly those crossing borders such as infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance. At present the EU’s European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) identifies and assesses risks posed to European citizens’ health from communicable diseases – after Brexit, the UK could be excluded from reporting and comparing important surveillance data on health threats. The EU also legislates on important public health issues such as tobacco regulation and air and water quality. At present there are no details on the UK’s ambitions for continued involvement with the ECDC,” states the College.

A third Red warning was issued on ‘protecting workers’ rights’, with the RCN stating that the Government has given no firm commitment that workers’ rights will be maintained at current standards once we leave the EU.

Amber warnings were issued for ‘research and nursing collaboration’ and ‘workforce’.

Commenting on the College’s assessment of progress in the health and care priorities, RCN chair of Council Maria Trewern said: “Tonight, the EU27 are meeting for dinner in Brussels to discuss the terms of the UK’s exit from Europe without us. With less than six months to go before Britain leaves the Union, the College is extremely concerned that the Government has made so little progress on sorting out vital regulations and agreements with the EU that have a huge impact on British patients, the public and nursing staff. These agreements have been built up over decades through collaboration between the different health systems and governments of Europe.

“We urge the Government to focus as a priority on the areas we’ve identified, or else Britain will stumble towards Brexit with no clear idea of how patients, the public and the health and care workforce will be protected after next March.”

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