Health and Brexit

From SARS to Avian Flu to Bioterrorism, infectious diseases do not recognise national borders. EU membership has enabled us to pool information, preventative measures and resources, to tackle such threats in collaboration with our closest neighbours. We have set up a European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm, to work together on early warnings and shared monitoring of health threats. We have taken action together to enhance public health through collaborative action to tackle air pollution, to improve port and airport health measures, to raise standards on clean water, beaches and soil quality, to reduce the harm that comes from tobacco and to tighten the control of hazardous chemicals. We have established a European Medicines Agency in London that ensures safe medicines and I continue to chair a series of round tables on health innovation, from personalised healthcare to biosimilars and rare diseases.

Freedom of movement and collaboration on research within the EU have brought together the best mix of highly specialised skills and experience, have boosted our capacity and have helped make our health service one of the most efficient in the world. They have also brought new rights to our citizens to travel, work or study in other EU countries, safe in the knowledge that our E-Health Card gives us immediate access to local health care, should we need it. Now the Cross Border Healthcare initiative, has given us the right to go abroad specifically to receive treatment and to have the bill covered by our own health service, thus avoiding unacceptable delays at home. It also provides centres of excellence for rare diseases and enhanced collaboration on e-health and health technology assessment.

Brexit campaigners consistently asserted during the Referendum that the NHS is crumbling because of EU nationals living and working in Britain. This is mischievous and damaging nonsense. The main causes for hospital and GP surgery attendance increases are not EU migration. Increased numbers largely consist of British-born people and, if migrants, they are mostly from countries other than the EU. EU migrants tend to be young and healthy, they contribute more in taxes than they claim in public services such as healthcare, and 130,000 of them improve NHS capacity by working in the health sector as doctors, nurses and care workers. A real NHS and Social Care crisis will come if those 130,000 are expelled from our country. Brexit campaigners talked much about the ‘£350million’ a week cost of our EU membership, which they promised they would spend instead on the NHS – a bogus figure and a bogus promise they now say should never have been taken seriously.

Our scientists, our academics, our doctors, our nurses, our patient groups have all spent years building up links throughout Europe. They share knowledge, experience, expertise and good practice with each other and with policymakers. The value of this is incalculable.  None of them understand why or how you can be healthier by severing the links to the creative lifeblood of our European family.