In the last edition of The Bigger Image, I commented on the outcome of the European Union (EU) referendum in the UK. Since then, parliament has been closed and we are no closer to understanding the implications of Brexit than we were two months ago.
The referendum result was 52% leave to 48% remain, with a turnout of 71.8%, meaning only 37.3% of the electorate actually voted to leave. Nevertheless, the government has indicated that it will honour this result, expressing its commitment to a careful withdrawal from the EU.
Powerful groups such as financial institutions and manufacturers are gearing up to lobby for protection of their industries under the new, yet-to-be-agreed rules.
While many of those who voted out did so to restrict movement of people around the EU, specific industries want freedom of movement of workers in their sectors to be protected along with free trade. So where does this leave medicine?
So far, hospitals, doctors and surgeries around the UK have benefited from the ability to employ skilled European doctors and nurses.
However, equivalence of qualifications around Europe has been a major factor in this, and many are concerned about whether these professionals will be welcome in the UK after Brexit.
Furthermore, the movement of British professionals as a consequence of Brexit has been barely touched upon. I worked in Bermuda for five years and obtaining a work permit there was a long and complex process.
As long as there was a Bermudian radiologist to fill the post, I had a job. I would never have been head of department as long as my excellent Bermudian colleague wanted the role, and if a Bermudian wanted my job, I’d have to leave.
For me, to work three years in Barcelona, where my rights were the same as those of a Spanish radiologist was a privilege. It was a pleasure to know that I could go anywhere in Europe to live and work or even retire with healthcare provision.
This work was with Telemedicine Clinic (TMC), which uses skilled subspecialists registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) with a license to practice. They undergo appraisals and are revalidated according to GMC rules.
The TMC radiologists who report for the UK are based around Europe. Some are in the UK, but many are in other countries. TMC’s model relies to a small extent upon freedom of movement, but equivalence of qualification around the EU is more important.
It is a model that is increasingly popular in the UK. If bankers, car manufacturers and other exporters are lobbying for special conditions post-Brexit, then it is just as important that decision makers are aware of the facts specific to radiology.
The UK has the worst capacity shortfall of any country in Europe, with just 4.8 radiologists per 100,00 people.
If our ability to use these skills in an imaginative way, using networks of teleradiologists, is inhibited under Brexit, our ability to cope with the ever-increasing demand for imaging will be seriously compromised. That’s the overview. What can you do as an individual though?
There is a group that was formed out of the ashes of the “remain” campaign: www.open-britain.co.uk
Having accepted defeat, its members will be working hard to achieve the best outcome for all sectors of UK society and business.
I have volunteered to help them build a radiology solution…and I urge you all in the UK to consider whether you too may be able to help to build something that preserves our freedom, as doctors, to share skills across Europe.
– George McInnes
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