Hunt: Government trying to ‘deal positively’ with Brexit health consequences

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that the government will continue to focus on “improving the health and care system” in its Brexit negotiations and attempt to deal “positively” with the consequences of the UK’s departure from the EU.

The comments were made in a response to the chair of the Health Select Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston, who wrote a letter to Hunt last December asking about the processes and resources the Department of Health (DH) has put in place to identify and secure health objectives within the Brexit negotiations.

Dr Wollaston had raised concerns that Brexit will have “major consequences” on health and social care and sought reassurances about the government’s process within the DH, across government, across the health sector, and preparations for the ‘morning after Brexit’.

“Leaving the European Union will have major consequences for a wide range of health and social care issues, from our future licensing and access to medicines to the health and social care workforce,” Dr Wollaston wrote in her letter to Hunt.

“Second, (…) health faces an exceptional challenge, in that many of the important issues for health in the UK do not fall neatly into the definition of ‘health’ within the framework of EU law and policy, such as the chapters of EU law used for negotiating accession and likely to provide the structure of the exit negotiations.

“The committee is concerned that this creates a specific risk for health, and for ensuring successful outcomes for health from the coming Brexit negotiations.”

Wollaston raised six particular areas of concern for the Health Committee, covering the UK’s health and social care workforce; cross-border healthcare; and wider medicinal and health research.

The Health Committee’s other concerns included public health, including environmental protections like air pollution rules; resources such as relations with appropriate EU bodies and funding; and access to the NHS and private health markets post-Brexit.

Hunt responded on 13 January that the government is completing the “comprehensive preparatory work” necessary ahead of triggering Article 50 after which the UK will have two years to complete negotiations with the EU before leaving.

“We will play our part in securing the best possible outcome from exiting the EU, dealing positively with its consequences, while continuing to focus attention on improving the health and care system and the challenges it faces,” Hunt said.

Hunt explained that the DH’s work is officially co-ordinated by a team within the Global and Public Health Directorate with other directorates undertaking the work on their respective areas as part of their wider responsibilities.

“The most focused preparations are naturally in those areas where leaving the EU will have the greatest effect, including those identified in your letter and those included in the Department’s written evidence to this inquiry,” Hunt added. “As you rightly point out in your letter, many of the issues your committee has identified are not bound by departmental responsibilities.

“We are working closely with the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) and other departments to co-ordinate the multiple complex strands of work involved in preparing to leave the EU. We will also be closely involved as the negotiations progress.”

Hunt is set to be questioned more thoroughly by the Health Select Committee on the impact of Brexit on health and social care in an evidence hearing at the House of Commons tomorrow.

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