BMA highlights Brexit risk to cross-border health care

The British Medical Association has expressed concern that vital cross-border cooperation in health care could  be put at risk by hard border controls.

The BMA’s Northern Ireland council chair, Dr John Woods said Northern Ireland is too small a health economy to efficiently provide some smaller specialist services. “The Republic of Ireland is our natural partner for many of these, allowing both countries to provide benefits to patients on both sides of the border,” he said.

Cross-border health services like the cancer centre in Derry, all-island children’s cardiac services and  long-standing co-operation between the emergency services when responding to major emergencies and public health risks.

A paper published last December by the Northern Ireland Assembly highlighting the risk to initiatives such as CAWT (Cooperation and Working Together).

Funded by the EU, the CAWT project has facilitated a variety of health and social care services jointly overseen by authorities in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, benefiting patients from both countries.

The BMA  has issued an election manifesto urging that an exit from the EU does not hinder the UK’s ability to take a lead in European and global public health threats.

By leaving the EU, the UK will need to define a new relationship with those organisations responsible for regulating safety standards in health, or develop a new approach.

These include the European Medicines Agency, which evaluates the safety of pharmaceutical treatments for people and animals, and Euratom, whose remit would include areas such as nuclear medicine.

While public health services in the UK have already borne the brunt of significant funding cuts, exiting the EU could see new regulatory responsibilities, or at least more complex arrangements, for public health being heaped on to a future UK government.

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine professor of European public health Martin McKee expressed his concerns about what impact Brexit might have.

Professor McKee, who is also director of research policy at the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, says that the sheer scale of the undertaking facing the Government made it unlikely that complex areas such as public health, could be given sufficient regard.

‘Brexit is the biggest event our government and civil service has had to face since the D-Day landings,’ he says.