At the end of this week the UK will leave the EU, and there are still many issues which remain uncertain concerning the future of health and care. After 31 January there will be a transition period until the end of 2020, while the UK and EU negotiate additional arrangements. This is a continually evolving situation and as a College we wanted to update Fellows and Members with some key points at this time.

The College is honoured to have international Fellows and Members in over 100 countries around the world, with an active network of Overseas Regional Advisers covering 26 countries. Our activities across the globe have been increasing in recent years and we look forward to continuing to engage and collaborate with colleagues across the UK, Europe and internationally. We live in a digitally connected world where health professionals break down boundaries and work with globally-based partners on a daily basis. The College will continue to promote, support and facilitate initiatives and partnerships in Europe and around the world and this is central to our long-term strategy for the future. 

Much remains to be clarified about the impact of Brexit on issues such as our NHS workforce; research; freedom of movement; access to medicines; reciprocal healthcare and implications for public health. Given the current shortfalls being experienced in staffing in both the health and social care sectors, the UK Government must clarify its intentions on the ability of international colleagues to work in health and social care roles in the UK. The announcement in the Queen’s Speech that a new visa will ensure qualified doctors, nurses and health professionals have fast-track entry to the UK was welcome, however this is a multifaceted issue and all parts of the health and care workforce must be considered in any proposals on immigration. There must be a whole-system approach.

We have made a strong case throughout the Brexit process to date that the role of EU nationals and other international colleagues must be valued and respected. We have led calls for the Medical Training Initiative/International Medical Training Fellowship Programme to be expanded. Doctors and other healthcare professionals from around Europe and overseas have long made a significant contribution to our NHS and to the delivery of safe patient care. This is not only welcome but is part of the continuous exchange of knowledge in healthcare and should be strongly encouraged.  Colleagues who are EU, EEA or Swiss citizens should apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021.

In terms of research and innovation, the UK contributed only 11% of the EU research budget but received 16% of allocated funding. Collaboration across the EU has enabled the UK to further its scientific research agenda, through our ability to access both European research talent and important sources of funding. The potential of Brexit to put barriers in the way of mobility of researchers, notably a need for work permits is concerning. Continued access to Horizon 2020 programmes and Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) grants is something that the College strongly supports to promote continued excellence in research and innovation. Other sources of funding are also important, such as the European Fund for Strategic Investment in support of exports, and any loss of these sources will also need to be addressed.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) regulates medicines across the EU, offering a consistent approach to medicines regulation in Member States. The EMA has stated that it “is working on the scenario that the UK will become a third country after Brexit. As a consequence, the UK will no longer be able to engage as (co)-rapporteur for new marketing authorisation applications via the centralised procedure”. A strong future partnership between the UK and EMA will be crucial to ensure the NHS can continue to secure the best possible outcomes for patients and the UK Government must take action to ensure that this is the case.

The College continues to work with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and other health care partners to keep informed on Brexit-related developments and work in collaboration to call for actions during the negotiations. It is vital that healthcare is given the prominence and attention it deserves in the Brexit negotiations and we will keep Fellows and Members updated as the constantly changing Brexit landscape becomes clearer.

- Professor Derek Bell OBE