Brexit: latest updates

With the Brexit landscape constantly changing, this article pulls together the latest updates on Brexit and its potential impact on health and care.

19 October 2021

The UK-EU negotiations 

UK Government seeks to renegotiate terms of NI Protocol

Disagreement between the UK and EU over implementation of the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol, in particular the operation of border controls between the rest of the UK (GB) and NI in order to avoid a “hard border” on the island of Ireland, continues to simmer. However talks are due to restart now that the EU has come forward on 13th October with new proposals on the Protocol, including arrangements to ensure continued availability of medicines in Northern Ireland. 

Earlier in July, neither side accepted proposed solutions from the other, prompting a public statement on behalf of the NHS Confederation and the Brexit Health Alliance. 

UK Government announces "standstill" on import of medicines into Northern Ireland

On 6th September the UK unilaterally announced a “standstill”, preserving the status quo whereby medicinal products can continue to be imported from GB to NI under current rules whilst negotiations are ongoing: to “provide space for potential further discussions and give certainty and stability to businesses while any such discussions proceed”. And in October, the Government suggested it would be prepared to trigger Article 16 if there is no movement towards a solution in the near future.

Data transfers

The UK Government is consulting on proposals for changes to the UK’s data regime which could result in the EU reviewing its decision to grant equivalence to the UK’s data protection rules in June of this year (2021). 

Data transfers underpin our entire NHS and European health sector, and the agreement is instrumental to addressing cross-border health threats such as COVID-19, enabling the movement of professionals and facilitating crucial research, development, and cooperation. Should the EU revoke the UK data sharing agreement, costly and burdensome alternative transfer mechanisms will need to be put in place for personal data to continue to flow.  

The Brexit deal

The trade and cooperation agreement was concluded between the UK and EU on Christmas Eve and addresses many of the concerns repeatedly expressed by the NHS Confederation and Brexit Health Alliance over the last four years. Inevitably the new relationship between the UK and EU has resulted in more complex and time-consuming procedures compared with the rules that applied when the UK was a member of the EU.

This letter to the health and care sector on 30 December 2020 from the Department of Health and Social Care provides an update on the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the government's preparations for the end of the transition period. For a detailed assessment of the impact of the deal, you can read the European Office’s briefing

The NHS Confederation also hosted an online event ‘What does the new Brexit trade deal mean for the NHS?’, looking at the impact of the Brexit deal on the NHS and wider health sector that supports it. The session detailed where we are in the process, shared a full run down of the agreements that have implications for health, and discussed what changes can be expected and where members can find the latest advice and guidance on Brexit issues. Visit the event page for the recording and presentation from the session.

The Withdrawal Agreement: Implementation 

The EU-UK Joint Committee

The Joint Committee has the overall responsibility to oversee and monitor the application of the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement, including the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol, which entered into force on 1 February 2020. It is co-chaired by the UK and the EU – the UK co-chair is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP and the EU co-chair is European Commission Vice-President, Maroš Šefčovič. 

The Cabinet Office has consulted on Government engagement with business and civil society groups on implementation of the TCA, which will include setting up a Domestic Advisory Group and Civil Society Forum. The NHS Confederation and other Brexit Health Alliance members responded, highlighting the importance of the health sector having a “seat at the table” and a genuine opportunity to influence the work of the Partnership Council.

Citizens rights and reciprocal healthcare

A new body, the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements, has been set up to ensure that the rights of EU and EFTA citizens enshrined in the WA and TCA are implemented in the UK. 

Neither the TCA nor the recent trade deals between the UK and EFTA countries include reciprocal healthcare provisions, but the UK Government is hoping to conclude such agreements before the end of this year. Agreement also needs to be reached for Gibraltar which is similarly outside the scope of the TCA. Negotiations for an international treaty on Gibraltar between the bloc and the U.K have begun and we expect agreement on reciprocal healthcare to be agreed swiftly.

Accessing healthcare in the EU from 1 January 2021

The Government has launched its new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which will gradually replace the existing European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and which will continue to guarantee the rights of UK citizens to receive emergency and medically necessary healthcare when travelling in the EU - this includes medically necessary treatment for a pre-existing or chronic condition. Current EHICs will remain valid for as long as they are in date and people can continue to use them when travelling in the EU and application for the replacement GHIC will only be necessary when a current EHIC expires. The new GHIC is free and can be obtained via the official website


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