Dr Philippa Whitford, MP, currently on holiday in Orkney took time out of her vacation to address a well attended public meeting on Wednesday 1st August on how Brexit will affect health services in Scotland and the UK.
Before being elected in 2015 for Central Ayrshire, Dr Whitford was ( and still is) a breast cancer surgeon. Her German born husband is a GP.
Dr Whitford described how the UK Government had painted itself into a corner, drawing red lines and removing possible options so that all that is left is a ‘no deal’ or a ‘unknown deal’.
She found it frightening and bizarre that a UK Government was putting forward the idea of stockpiling both food and medical supplies and suggested that the no deal Armageddon was being set up so that we will accept any deal – no matter how poor that may be.
The UK Government ‘wants to have its cake and eat it’ said Dr Whitford. The 3 amendments the Government accepted from the Rees-Mogg Brexiteers tore up the Government’s own White Paper:
- that there cannot be a border in the Irish Sea
- that the UK can never collect customs duties for the EU
- that the UK must come out of the computer VAT system
Dr Whitford posed the question to the audience that the scaremongering over stockpiling might be so that no matter how poor a deal is made we will be so relieved that we will go along with it.
“Is it that they are trying to frighten us into accepting any deal?”
On a personal note Dr Whitford described her husband’s situation who had worked for over 30 years as a GP in the Scottish NHS and that he still does not know what happens to him once the UK leaves the EU. She described the situation of his parents – a German father and a Polish mother and how their child had been removed from them. Being in the EU for him he said:
“I cannot believe that in one generation I can marry who I love and live where I love.”
Since the UK Government took the decision to leave the EU there has been a 90% drop in nurses coming from the EU and 40 – 60% of EU Doctors are considering leaving. In Scotland, said Dr Whitford, 14% had already gone.
“If we do not have enough people then we struggle to deliver the service”.
“The young have the most to lose” she continued and “they didn’t get a voice….the EU citizens didn’t get a voice.”
Dr Whitford described the huge strides made, particularly in medical research, because the EU supported co-operation and research. For the whole of the EU there is one licensing process for new drugs. Currently drugs are produced both in the UK and in rEU and that will still continue so people should not panic into thinking that suddenly their medication will stop. What will stop, however, is our participation in research and the development of new drugs – and Scotland had punched well above its weight in that field.
Pharmaceutical companies are looking at stockpiling by extending their stocks from 10 weeks to 14 weeks but it is not possible to do more than that because that is simply not the way the system works. Most production is done ‘in time’ – warehouses of supplies is not the way of working. Drugs will also become more expensive as tariffs will be applied and there may be delays at border checks.
As a Breast Cancer surgeon Dr Whitford recalled shortages of medical isotopes in 2008 – 2010. Since then the management of isotopes has been taken over by Euratom which meant those shortages would never occur again for cancer treatment. When the UK leaves the EU we will also be leaving Euratom.
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is:
“A free card that gives you access to medically necessary, state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in any of the 28 EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, under the same conditions and at the same cost (free in some countries) as people insured in that country.”
It has meant that people who may be denied travel health insurance because they have significant needs can still enjoy trips to Europe. For other travellers it makes travel insurance cheaper if they wish to take it out because it is underwritten by the EHIC.
Dr Whitford also spoke about the wider implications of Brexit: food labelling and standards, environmental standards and the attack on Devolution.
“Brexit is being used,” she said ” and we didn’t choose this.”
“Do we start making our own decisions or be dragged around like a rag doll in the mud?”
“In 2014 staying in the UK was the safe option – the straight road. People were frightened of Independence.”
Dr Whitford said that the choice was now Brexit in the UK or “we decide [Scotland] how we interact with the rest of the world.”
“The UK Government can over rule the Scottish Parliament at any time” she said and described the difference between the two unions.
“The EU is all about legality…everything is negotiated.”
“Westminster just decides and does not think about Scotland at all.”
On another Scottish Independence referendum Dr Whitford counselled that it is important to let people know what the choices are about. And that the conversations must be gentle, polite and not blaming voters for what they voted in the past.
“Scotland and Northern Ireland have a lifeboat,” said Dr Whitford because they voted Remain.
“We can drive our own futures – it will be hard work but finally we would be able to make our own decisions.”
Dr Philippa Whitford will be speaking about her work in Gaza as a breast cancer surgeon on Friday 3rd August, 7.30pm at St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall as the guest speaker of Orkney Friends of Palestine.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame