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If Brexit really does mean Brexit, we deserve answers

Our Communications & Policy Officer, Emily Galloway, writes about the importance of evidence informing planning post-Brexit.

On Friday, I attended the relaunch of the European Union Withdrawal (Evaluation of Effects on Health and Social Care Sectors) Bill – a Private Members Bill introduced by Brendan O’Hara MP, SNP Member of Parliament for the Constituency of Argyll and Bute.  

The Bill would require the UK Government to make arrangements for an independent evaluation of the impact of Brexit upon the health and social care sectors across the UK, and for a copy of the independent evaluation report to be submitted to the UK Parliament. Such an evaluation is necessary to help shape and inform planning and decision-making in the health and social care sectors across the UK post Brexit. With powers over health devolved, the Bill would instruct the UK government to consult with the devolved governments and health administrations across the UK and consult with devolved governments over which independent body would be best placed to carry out an effective and UK-wide review.  Over 100 key organisations have backed the bill – including SASW and our counterparts in Northern Ireland. If passed, it will provide one crucial thing that has been absent for so much of the Brexit debacle: evidence.

Evidence-based policy making is a set of methods which informs the policy process. It advocates a more rational, rigorous and systematic approach, based on the premise that policy decisions should be better informed by available evidence. This means implementing policies that are underpinned by rational analysis rather than ideological bias, to ensure decisions are made on the basis that they will make the best possible difference to our economies, our public services and our communities.

For Brexit, this has not been the case. In 2016, voters were provided with no viable answers, no evidence of what a leave vote would mean for the future of our country. Three years on, this lack of clarity and insecurity continues.

For health and social care – risks to the supply of medicines and labour, if we leave without a deal, are particularly concerning.

37 million packs of medicines are imported every month from EU and EEA countries; the UK exports 45 million. Inevitable prolonged disruption and delay at borders could threaten supplies of drugs, and other vital healthcare products – both in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

This includes insulin, and drugs used to treat cancer.

Whilst many of these drugs are already being stockpiled, these don’t last forever. Available alternatives could result in unknown side effects for patients. This means, for many people, a no-deal could have fatal consequences.

The thousands of EU and EEA nationals who live and work in the UK – who provide care and support to the vulnerable and in need – face insecurity and uncertainty. There continues to be lack of clarity about the deadline for settled status applications, and a very large proportion of EU nationals are yet to apply. Recruiting and retaining quality staff is one of the single most challenging issues the health and social care sectors face. Its easy to see how the possible end of free movement could make the recruitment and retention problem worse and put the sector under even more strain. 

You don’t have to be politically engaged to care about Brexit. This issue transcends politics. It will affect our grandparents, our parents and our children. From the medicines they take, to the people who care for them: the most vulnerable people in our society will feel the impact. As the granddaughter of a 95-year-old who takes a cocktail of medications each day, who relies on carers to make sure he is safe and comfortable – many of whom originate from the EU – I am increasingly anxious over what the future will hold. The irony that he voted to leave is not lost on me – but can I blame him? If he had known the risks involved, back in 2016, would he still have voted the same way? Irrespective of what side of the debate you fall, the absence of evidence informing this process has been troubling. This bill, if passed, will give us just that – evidence and insight into what Brexit will mean for our health and social care sector – and how best to cope with it. If Brexit really does mean Brexit, we, as citizens, deserve answers on what this will mean for a sector – and for the people within it – that will be affected the most.

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