Leaving the EU - message from your President

Paediatricians understand that when life gets tough, it is our interconnectedness that often steers us through. Russell highlights his concerns about the impact of Brexit on children and young people, and on our public life and institutions.

What a week in British politics. A sense of unreality tempered with growing anxiety about the effects of this interminable deadlock on public life and our communities. In particular, I look at all the chaos with deep unease about what it means for children and young people and those of us whose job it is to keep them healthy and well.

Last Wednesday I published a statement in which I tried to get at the real-life impact of this political stalemate. Here’s what I said:

I call upon the Government and all MPs to place the best interests of our children and young people at the heart of decisions on the future of our country.

I am increasingly concerned about the effects of such chronic political uncertainty on our doctors, patients and parents. Those working at the heart of our NHS deserve reassurance and peace of mind so they can get on with looking after patients. It is difficult to provide vital reassurance in such a profoundly uncertain environment.

We must not, in leaving the European Union, harm the very thing on which our future depends – the health and wellbeing of today’s children and young people. The politics are divisive but the details of what must be done for young people and children need not be. We must have clarity and certainty on the maintenance of our NHS workforce, the supply of medicines, and how to protect our research base from the effects of leaving the EU.

An abrupt severance of the vast web of connections we have built over the past 40 years will inevitably disrupt the health of children and young people. It is essential to do all we can to protect children and young people and those who care for them. For the UK to be successful, no matter what our future relationship with the EU, the health and wellbeing of our children is key.

It is this last issue that particularly worries me. Healthcare is a complex system and our systems and processes are hugely interconnected, across the UK and across Europe. Disruption of complex systems will have inevitable consequences, and very unlikely to be for the good.

Today, I can share a more detailed account of the assurances we’re seeking from Government. Many of these concerns are shared across the Royal Colleges, while others are more specific to us as paediatricians. We’re clear, as we’ve been from the start, that we must have certainty on workforce, the supply of medicines and the delivery of care, and a thorough plan for how to protect our research base from the impact of leaving the European Union. As you know, these concerns become more acute and immeasurably more worrying in the context of leaving without a deal.

The Government must face addressing these issues. On the ground, I know that many of you will feel worried and uncertain about the future. I’m an optimist by nature, as I think many of us who choose a life in medicine are, but it is undeniable that we are living in challenging and uncertain times.

One of the things that concerns me most is the loss of trust in our wider society, which is now such a central feature of the Brexit process. As paediatricians we understand that when life gets tough, as it often does, it is our interconnectedness and our relationships with others that often steer us through. The breakdown of trust and the polarisation of public life into factions is a real threat to our shared sense of responsibility to one another. In our profession this responsibility to help each other is especially vital. It will not be easy to rebuild trust within our politics and society. However, at an individual level we can look out for each other and support our colleagues during this tough chapter in our national story.

However, I don’t believe we should be too negative about the change in our politics, as there remain small glimmers of hope. I was greatly encouraged to see our Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies just last week ride out to the defence of medical warning about coming dangers – a powerful intervention that resulted in an apology.

Our most urgent priority is making sure clinicians have clear, public-facing information for patients at the earliest possible stage

At College level, we will continue to listen and advocate on your behalf and for the people who need our help and care. Our representatives are involved in an ongoing series of stakeholder meetings and briefings with the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England and we will continue to engage robustly in the months ahead. Our most urgent priority is making sure clinicians have clear, public-facing information for patients at the earliest possible stage. One of our primary roles is to inform and reassure our patients. For many of us, this is not easy at the current moment.

No doubt I’ll be writing again about Brexit in the coming months. In the meantime, do get in touch at president@rcpch.ac.uk if you have thoughts to share.