The chair of the Royal College of GPs, Professor Helen-Stokes Lampard, has written an open letter to all the remaining Tory party leader hopefuls urging them to avoid a ‘no deal’ Brexit in the interests of patient care, and taking the opportunity to emphasise the need to safeguard the future of the NHS.
In the letter, which has been sent to Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid, Dominic Raab and Rory Stewart, Professor Stokes-Lampard urges them all to prevent a no-deal Brexit at any cost.
Such a move could have a significant impact on patient care by threatening the supply of medicines, medical devices, and radioisotopes, as well as the recruitment and retention of vital EU national staff, she says.
The College officially opposes the UK's exit from the European Union following a decision by its governing Council in November 2018.
In the letter, she also takes the opportunity to emphasise the importance of safeguarding the future of the NHS, by highlighting that now is “a transformational time for our country and the health service.”
General practice is the bedrock of the NHS and is highly valued by patients, she writes, "But it is also under immense strain. If we are to meet the challenges of the 21st century and put the NHS on a sustainable footing, it is essential that the next government sets out a positive vision for the future of general practice and helps us realise the ambitions set out in NHS England's Long Term Plan."
As well as calling for assurances that the NHS will remain free at the point of use now and for future generations, Professor Stokes-Lampard also calls on whomsoever is the next Prime Minister to increase funding for frontline general practice to at least 11% of the NHS budget, and deliver NHS England's Long Term Plan in full.
She adds the recruitment of at least 5,000 additional GPs by 2021 to her wish list in addition to more members of the wider practice team to work on the frontline of general practice and greater efforts to ensure that general practice is an attractive career to prevent experienced GPs leaving the profession.
These are all key to delivering the College's vision for general practice, Fit for the Future, launched last month – the result of a consultation with more than 3,000 GPs, other healthcare professionals and patients, she points out.
Commenting on what prompted her to write the letter, Professor Stokes-Lampard said: "We need to know that regardless of who wins this contest, our health service will remain safe and free at the point of need for our patients – one of the foundations that this great source of national pride was built on.
"Brexit has dominated the political landscape for several years, to the detriment of health, education, and many other essential pillars of our society. As a College we oppose Brexit on the grounds that we believe it will have a profoundly negative impact on the NHS and patient safety – but if we are to leave the EU, at the very least we need assurances that we will not do so without a no deal.”
She added: "As the UK's largest medical Royal College, representing more than 53,000 doctors, it is not our place to say who will make the best Prime Minister, but whoever it is, must make the NHS a priority; they must protect it, and the best way for them to do this will be to invest in general practice.”