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‘No-deal Brexit’ will have serious health consequences

British Prime Minister Theresa May has secured an extension on the leave date until Halloween, but the prospect of leaving the European Union without a deal in place remains a consequential prospect for the health and wellbeing of British citizens across the continent.

According to researchers from the University of Michigan and Oxford University, published in The Lancet, a no-deal Brexit would make it harder for the United Kingdom to recruit health workers into their system, would jeopardise continuing care for British citizens with pre-existing conditions living outside the UK and could even lead to an increase in cardiovascular disease-related deaths.

The researchers looked at what effects four different Brexit scenarios would have on health services in the UK, including: “No-deal Brexit” (if there is no withdrawal agreement by March 29, European Union law and agreements stop working immediately), withdrawal agreement (a legal agreement for a transitional period lasting until December 2020 during which EU law continues to apply in the UK until the end of this transition), Northern Ireland Protocol’s “Backstop” (a binding part of the agreement focusing on all trade in products between the UK and EU), and a political declaration on the future relationship between UK and EU (a political text that points to a free trade agreement similar to the EU-Canada agreement but lacks details on how the changes would be implemented).

Of those four scenarios, a no-deal Brexit would have the greatest negative impact on health.

“Under all of the scenarios we examined, Brexit has significant, negative consequences for Britain’s health. Remaining in the EU is still the best option in terms of health outcomes,” said U-M School of Public Health Assistant Professor Holly Jarman.

“We predict that the political and economic disruption from a no-deal Brexit would be detrimental to the UK National Health Service and the health of people who depend on the NHS for care and support,” she said.

NHS Trusts would still have the option of sending patients for treatment in the EU to cope with long waiting times, she noted, but the UK would also become a “rule-taker” in Europe, meaning that British officials would lose almost all influence over future EU decisions affecting health, she said.

Brexit is being treated as a political game by those in positions of power, Ms Jarman continued.

“The consequences of crashing out of the EU without a deal would fall on ordinary people whose lives depend on a consistent supply of medicines or properly staffed NHS care. In the longer term, the impact of Brexit on the UK food supply or levels of air pollution could lead us to live less healthy lives.”

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