Belfast Telegraph

No deal Brexit will damage Northern Ireland health care, warns medical body

By Michael Sheils McNamee

A no deal Brexit would have "serious implications" for the delivery of health care in Northern Ireland, the UK's leading medical authority has warned.

A new report from the British Medical Association (BMA) has identified a number of at-risk areas, and highlights the potential breakdown of cross-border cooperation as a concern.

It comes amid growing speculation the UK could crash out of the European Union without an agreement on future cooperation. 

Council chair of BMA Northern Ireland Dr John D Woods said cross border workers were a key part of the health service in Northern Ireland, and the introduction of a hard border could stop staff making the daily commute, and would put "an already pressurised service under even more strain".

"The current arrangements for cross-border delivery of health services, such as paediatric cardiac care and cancer services, bring great benefit to patients. On its own, Northern Ireland is not large enough to sustain such all-island specialised services," he said.

"We therefore run the risk of forcing patients to once again travel considerable distances to receive care but also of exacerbating existing difficulties within the health service to retain experienced, specialist doctors at a time when we really need to attract and keep doctors working here."

Dr Woods also cautioned against the difficulty it could cause students from Northern Ireland aiming to train in the Republic and return to work north of the border.

“A failure to recognise professional qualifications creates a very real risk that medical students from Northern Ireland who opt to study and train in the Republic of Ireland would have significant difficulty in returning home to practice medicine in Northern Ireland," he said.

“Any developments which risk destabilising the Good Friday Agreement could make Northern Ireland a less attractive place to work and will make attracting and retaining clinicians to work in Northern Ireland even more difficult.”

There is currently a provision in place for all-Ireland health care in a number of areas, including access to specialist services anywhere on the island and emergency services operating on both sides of the border.

One example of this is the radiotheraphy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry, which provides services to over 500,000 cancer patients from both sides of the border. 

Pressure on the Northern Ireland health care system has been an ongoing issue over recent years, and has been exacerbated since the collapse of Stormont in January 2017.

In May, more than a quarter of Northern Ireland GPs said they felt they could not cope with the stress placed on them by a shortage of doctors.

Waiting times for outpatient appointments were highlighted earlier this month when it was revealed a Northern Ireland woman could face a potential two-year wait for treatment after being diagnosed with a suspected case of multiple sclerosis.

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