Health officials must be central to Brexit talks, say MPs

28 Apr 17

Ministers or officials from the Department of Health must be part of the Brexit negotiations with the European Union, MPs have said.

The department must also ensure it has enough staff working on the process of leaving the EU, the health committee said in a report released today.

Work on keeping reciprocal healthcare arrangements with EU countries should also be prioritised, the MPs added.

“The UK’s withdrawal from the European Union—‘Brexit’—will affect many aspects of the provision of health and social care in the United Kingdom,” the report stated.

“The government should clarify the expertise of the negotiating team and, whenever health issues are being discussed, it is vital that ministers or officials from the Department of Health should form part of the UK representation in negotiations with the EU.”

The report also said: “Our concerns extend to the resource dedicated by the Department of Health to preparation and negotiation and we would urge the department to ensure that it has sufficient staff working on the process of Brexit.”

In evidence to the committee, Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, observed that following a reduction of staff at the department for health “key individuals [in the department] who understood the issues have recently been made redundant.”

The committee pointed out travellers and holidaymakers could lose out on cheap and easily accessible health care under the European Health Insurance Card through Brexit. Access to healthcare for British citizens abroad could also be impacted, it said.

The MPs recognised the government wished “to prioritise and resolve the existing rights of all R-EU nationals resident in the UK and UK nationals resident in the R-EU” but called “on both sides of the negotiation to prioritise and resolve this matter at the earliest opportunity”.

The committee concluded: “As the early [Brexit] negotiations progress, we will be looking to the government to demonstrate that it is making health policy a priority, and that it is devoting sufficient resource to ensure a successful outcome.” 

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The committee is right to call for a streamlined process for recruiting health and care staff from overseas, and to make clear that criteria should not just be about pay – it is about valuing public service and being able to recruit the staff we need to deliver safe, compassionate and high-quality care.

Saffron Cordery, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, wrote on the importance of the NHS to bang the drum for patient access, its workforce and clinical care in CIPFA’S recently released PF Perspectives. See Countdown for healthcare.

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