In the Brexit talks there are a myriad of contradictions around health to which solutions must be found because otherwise patients’ lives could be put at risk, Mairead McGuinness MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament, has warned.
In a speech in Dublin on Thursday evening (18th January) at an Irish Medical Organisation seminar she said the EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has indicated that the logical outcome of the red lines set by the UK was a Canada-style free trade agreement.
“This agreement, CETA, while it does have some mutual recognition does not have mutual recognition in standards. The EU-UK agreement would have to account for such and this would mean the UK would have to stick to EU regulations with no formal say in how they are developed. But this poses a major political dilemma for those who say they want to ‘take back control’.”
However, she said new arrangements will have to be set up in every area of policy. “In healthcare, it’s a matter of life or death. If we don’t get this right, patients could suffer. Therefore, the focus has to be on patients over politics,” she said.
However, she warned that the positive cross-border cooperation on health is framed within the context of EU membership and some of it funded by the EU budget.
The UK withdrawal from the EU will jeopardize the positive situation which exists today.
And she said it is regrettable that the voice of the Northern Ireland Executive is missing from the process.
She said it took seven years to negotiate CETA but there is just over a year left in the Article 50 UK exit process, plus around a two year transition period.
The MEP said there are risks to both formal and informal working relationships and arrangements which characterise cross border health and social care activity in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“Issues like diverging regulations could lead to shortages of medicines, and confusion over recognition of qualifications could hinder the continued free movement of doctors and other medical professionals.
“Overall there is still considerable uncertainty over the shape of the future EU-UK relationship, which makes preparing for these challenges difficult. We must have greater clarity from the UK side. Now is the time to outline the challenges, inform the negotiators and put patient safety at the heart of our negotiations,” she said.
In her speech the Ms McGuinness discussed the healthcare areas which are set to pose challenges, including:
- Cross-border collaboration and access to healthcare, including collaboration between Ireland and Northern Ireland and Ireland and the UK
- Patients’ rights
- Professional mobility for doctors and others in the healthcare system
- Public health collaboration, including antimicrobial resistance and the ‘one health’ policy direction
- Medicines regulations
- Access to medicines
- Medical research and clinical trials.