Tackling global outbreaks such as coronavirus could become harder if the UK loses access to the EU’s early warning system for cross-border threats without finding an effective replacement, according to an alliance of health bodies.
Public health is at risk if health is not made a priority in the forthcoming negotiations with the EU, according to the Brexit Health Alliance (BHA), an umbrella group led by the NHS Confederation which encompasses the NHS, medical research, industry, patients and public health bodies.
The BHA has urged the government to prioritise continued cooperation with key EU agencies, such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and access platforms like the early warning and response system to deal with serious cross-border public health threats, such as pandemics and infectious diseases.
“Infectious diseases do not respect borders and we need to tackle them together,” said Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation and BHA co-chair.
“It is in all our interests to maintain these vital links between the UK and the EU not least because working together we are more likely to trace and tackle serious outbreaks effectively.”
Last week Boris Johnson said there was “no need” for a free trade agreement to involve accepting EU rules and has previously stated that the UK could “develop separate and independent policies” in a range of fields.
The alliance has also called for guarantees that critical medicines and medical devices will continue to be able to flow into and out of the UK and Europe, and that UK and EU residents should be able to access affordable healthcare when travelling in EU member states. It called on the government to ensure there was a continued role for the UK in Europe-wide research.
“Our worry is that all sides in these negotiations are under massive time pressures to agree a future trade deal and so there is a risk that the safety and health of patients and citizens across Europe could be overlooked,” said Dickson.
“There is no reason why leaving the EU should mean that the UK and the EU cannot maintain existing arrangements but if we are to achieve this health has to be seen as a priority, alongside business, in the negotiations. We would also like to see early agreements to protect patient safety, give citizens rights to healthcare, provide access to medicines and support medical research.”
The Department of Health has been approached for comment.