GPs demand defence of Northern Ireland health service from Brexit

Author: Louise Prime

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Mar 20, 2019
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The Westminster government must act to protect the health service in Northern Ireland from the harmful effects of Brexit, GPs from across the UK have demanded. They warned this morning that restrictions on people’s movements across a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would put increasing strain on an already pressurised service.

At the British Medical Association’s (BMA) conference of local medical committees in Belfast, delegates unanimously passed a motion to recognise "the devastating effect that Brexit may have on the delivery of healthcare in the UK and in particular Northern Ireland" and calling on the UK government “to take immediate steps to mitigate this”.

The Northern Ireland general practitioners committee of the BMA insisted that key issues for Northern Ireland in any exit from the EU are protecting the free movement of healthcare professionals across the border, mutual recognition of professional qualifications and cross-border provision of health services. Committee chair Dr Frances O’Hagan told delegates: “Regardless of what contingency plans they say are in place and the assurances that have been given by the Westminster government, Northern Ireland will still feel any departure from the EU far more acutely than the rest of the UK, especially if it’s a no-deal Brexit.”

She argued that Northern Ireland’s already pressurised service would be put under even more strain by the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland because it would deter cross-border workers and negatively affect Northern Ireland’s already depleted staffing levels in general practice. She said: “In Northern Ireland we also have successful cross-border health services that bring great benefit to patients, such as paediatric cardiac care and cancer services. We’re not large enough to sustain such all-island specialised services within Northern Ireland on our own.”

She added: “Brexit will have a profoundly negative effect on health services across the UK as a whole but particularly in Northern Ireland. There is absolutely nothing positive about Brexit with regards to healthcare. It presents an unprecedented threat to patients, healthcare workers and the wider health and social care service and that is why BMA is opposed to Brexit entirely and supports a People’s Vote.”

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