We've all seen that bus and its pilloried claim that Brexit will return £350 million a week to the NHS. But beyond the slogans, MPs and academics are turning their attention to how Brexit will affect health and social care rights, and health law in the UK more generally. Two recent developments are worthy of note.
First, the report of the House of Commons Health Committee, Brexit and health and social care - people & process (Eighth Report of Session 2016-17, HC 640). Before its work was cut short by the general election, the Health Committee inquiry identified six areas where Brexit will have a critical effect, including reciprocal healthcare and the impact on vulnerable people.
The Committee referred to a wide range of examples of the risks facing vulnerable people if they cannot access free healthcare or suitable insurance post Brexit. Evidence to the Committee highlighted that disabled people may be more severely affected by the loss of reciprocal healthcare than other groups, and a dilution of the existing arrangements could prevent some disabled people form travelling and/or working abroad. The Papworth Trust submitted evidence that:
"Disabled UK citizens working or living in the EU are currently entitled to access social and health care in their host country and receive the same treatment as nationals of that country with disabilities. This has been an essential safety net for many, who have been given the confidence to live, work, study or travel abroad. Any loss of a UK citizen’s future access to healthcare in an EU/EAA Member State would constitute a major barrier to their travel to the EU to live, work or even take a holiday."
Second, a conference at the University of Birmingham on UK Health Law: Where Now after Brexit? - convened by Professor Jean McHale, using the catchy hashtag #healthyBrexit and confronting the view from that "cliff edge". The conference covered topics as varied as the future of EU health law and the "EU patient", risks to public health from international commerce after Brexit, the effect of Brexit on clinical trials regulation, implications for reproductive rights, privacy and data protection and bioethics governance. (For more on issues covered by the conference, click here, and follow #healthyBrexit.)
As Professor McHale posited, if adequate provision is not made, what happens to the patients being treated in EU hospitals at midnight on Brexit D day? What about ambulances crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? Will people who travel daily across that border for work need travel insurance to cover their healthcare?
A cliff edge indeed. The Health Committee has expressed the hope that its successor committee will return to these issues.