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New National Report examines how Brexit may affect health and well-being of people across Wales

Published today by Public Health Wales, the Health Impact Assessment of Brexit examines the potential effects of Brexit on the short, medium and long-term health of people living in Wales.

It highlights how the physical and mental health of the poorest, those with lower educational qualifications, those employed in agricultural and manufacturing sectors exposed to Brexit and those requiring health and social care must be key considerations as preparations for Brexit develop and also continue to be addressed following any final agreements.

The report, The Public Health Implications of Brexit in Wales: A Health Impact Assessment Approach, examines in detail how all aspects of the Brexit process may impact health. It considers the direct risks to health through potential impacts on access to medicines and the staffing of health and social care staff from European countries but also how changes in employment opportunities, the stress of uncertainty for farming and other communities, potential changes in employment rights and regulations of food standards and the marketing of goods such as tobacco and alcohol can impact the health of people across Wales.

The report does not address the consequences of any specific Brexit outcome but considers both the potential harms and benefits that could be realised from any Brexit process. Moving away from existing European systems that underpin agriculture and investment in deprived regions of Wales provide opportunities to develop better, more sustainable food production and ensure children and adults living in poverty get adequate support to protect their health. However, this requires that the health of vulnerable individuals and communities is a central consideration in how Brexit is resolved. The report calls for the unique Welsh Well-Being of Future Generations legislation, that supports sustainable, equitable and long-term well-being, to be a key consideration in how Wales approaches Brexit and its on-going consequences.

The Health Impact Assessment also identifies health issues potentially affecting the whole population and include ensuring protection of, or strengthening in, public health regulations on tobacco, food, and alcohol and ensuring such protections are not diluted by changes in legislation, regulation or future trade agreements. Other broader health considerations included in the assessment consider the impact on health of:

  • Reduced or delayed access to new medicines, clinical trials and devices due to the UK leaving key regulatory and coordinating bodies
  • Reduced health protection capability due to the UK no longer participating in key public health coordinating systems and evidence sharing mechanisms
  • Impacts on the recruitment and retention of workers in the health and social care sector in the UK and Wales
  • Loss or reduced access to future EU funding for research and development, infrastructure, tackling inequalities and poverty and economic development.
  • Mental health and well-being impacts as a result of uncertainty about the future of the economy and employment

Professor Mark Bellis, Director of Policy, Research and International Development for Public Health Wales, said:

“As the final decisions are made on our relationship with Europe it is paramount that we consider how they will affect the health of our people and especially the health of those who are vulnerable to ill health through their reliance of health care, low levels of income or employment in sectors at risk through the Brexit process. Changes in the prosperity of Wales will fall hardest on such individuals and communities. This Health Impact Assessment is not a road map through Brexit but a check list for those navigating the process to ensure that the health and well-being of the people of Wales is considered at every juncture.”

Liz Green, Principal Health Impact Assessment Development Officer at Public Health Wales said:

“Predicting health outcomes is complex and difficult, even more so in the context of the shifting sands of the Brexit process. The Health Impact Assessment is not an analysis of the type of Brexit position the UK should adopt. It is about informing decisions so that once a destination has been chosen it can be reached with the least harms and most benefits to health. Nevertheless, this report will provide plenty to think about for organisations in Wales.  It highlights the need for action to maximise any potential opportunities for improving health and well-being in Wales following Brexit, as well as mitigating or preventing any possible negative impacts or unintended consequences".

Health Impact Assessment is an internationally recognised process, which supports organisations’ assessment of the potential consequences of their decisions, policies, plans or proposals on population health and well-being. Health Impact Assessment uses quantitative and qualitative evidence drawn from literature, health intelligence and other demographic data, and from a range of experts.

The Wales Health Impact Assessment Support Unit within Public Health Wales has carried out a Health Impact Assessment of the public health implications of Brexit in the short, medium and long term to enable the development of Public Health Wales’ organisational plans; support organisations (across sectors) and decision makers in Wales; and inform the overarching policy making environment.