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Nursing leader urges profession to back ‘people’s vote’ on Brexit deal

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Medical and nursing leaders are urging healthcare professionals to support a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal over concerns about lasting damage to the nation’s health.

The call comes as the House of Commons prepares to vote on the withdrawal agreement to exit the European Union.

A joint editorial by the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, and the British Medical Journal, claimed a people’s vote “will allow the British public to properly weigh up the choice between the proposed deal and potentially a no deal or remaining in the EU”.

The view supported by Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes and chair of the Commons health select committee, who said no version of Brexit would benefit the NHS – but only cause varying degrees of harm.

She and three fellow medically qualified MPs from all main parties have proposed an amendment to the forthcoming House of Commons vote.

If passed, this would make withdrawal from the EU conditional on a second referendum.

Whatever the outcome, the UK could then move forward knowing that the decision had been made on the basis of informed consent and the best available evidence.

It is now widely accepted that the UK’s economy will be badly hit by Brexit, with inevitable cuts to funding for health and social care, according to the joint editorial published in the BMJ.

It was written by Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the BMJ, Donna Kinnair, acting chief executive and general secretary at the RCN, and Chaand Nagpaul, chair of council at the BMA.

But they warn that a hard Brexit “also poses serious immediate and long term threats to the supply of medicines and devices, to staffing for health and social care, to research funding and collaboration, and to public health”.

While a Chequers deal or something like it would keep the UK in the single market for medicines and devices and would retain reciprocal healthcare schemes at least until 2020, “it offers no solution for the predicted staffing or funding crises, and key aspects of the deal are still to be hammered out,” they argue.

As a result, they urged clinicians to “consider adding your voice to this call for a people’s vote by telling your MP that you want an informed choice based on what you now know. We believe the evidence of a detrimental effect on the nation’s health is clear”.

Meanwhile, in a linked article in the journal, Dr Wollaston and Labour MP for Stockton South Paul Williams stated: “There is no version of Brexit which will benefit the NHS, social care, public health, or our life sciences sector - only varying degrees of harm.”

This, together with the wider economic fallout from Brexit, “will have the hardest impact on the most disadvantaged people in society,” they wrote.

They said they believed it was time to insist that politicians apply the principle of informed consent by making withdrawal from the EU conditional on a second referendum.

“With less than 140 days to go until we could chaotically crash out of the EU without a deal, it is time for all MPs to take responsibility for avoiding the consequences,” they added.

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