Bringing a nursing perspective to Brexit

Brexit could result in significant issues for the UK's health services and cancer nurses must be aware of them to ensure the best possible outcomes

Brexit could result in significant issues for the UK's health services and cancer nurses must be aware of them to ensure the best possible outcomes

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As abbreviations go, ‘Brexit’ entered the English language only recently, but it is likely to present us with the biggest political change facing the UK for more than a generation.

Among the popular acronyms in nursing in recent years are the 6Cs drawn up by chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings to sum up the core nursing values.

Four Cs

I suggest that Brexit can be considered by referencing the three Cs, and when cancer is added to the argument, the number rises to four, which I will outline in turn.

Contentious is the first C; with the result so close, and people’s views so disparate, it is unsurprising that debate and strong feelings arise about the rights or wrongs of Brexit. The second is that Brexit will be Challenging, and this is true whether one is a remain or leave supporter. The complexity of disentangling ourselves from 40 years of EU legislation and the various ways of working across different spheres is a massive undertaking. The third C concerns the fact that, regardless of our personal views, Brexit is Coming.

With these three Cs acknowledged, we also need to add the ‘big C’ – cancer – to the mix. Readers of this journal will be well aware of the pros and cons of Brexit given that it pervades all forms of the media at present. However, cancer nurses have been surprisingly silent about the impact of Brexit on their working lives, as well as the impact on the NHS and the workforce that delivers cancer care to patients across the four UK nations.

No one can predict the likely outcomes, but I do feel the need for more open debate, especially when we finally learn how the Brexit exit deal will look.

There are useful sources to consult in the meantime. One helpfully summarises the possible impacts of a ‘soft’, ‘hard’ or ‘failed’ Brexit on UK health services and research culture (Fahy et al 2017). The paper pulls few punches and suggests that we should be aware of all possible challenges and help shape the debate as the end game of an exit deal becomes a reality.

It is clear that many risks exist, as do opportunities. Risks include having access to cancer medicines in a timely manner, the flexible movement of the cancer workforce to meet changing demand, development of shared European research opportunities, and possible disruption to the availability of health technology (including pharmaceuticals), human tissue and radioisotopes.

Look out for significant issues

These are significant issues for cancer nurses to be aware of, and we have a voice to ensure the best possible outcomes from Brexit, despite the risks.

Regardless of one’s personal or political perspective, the three Cs of Brexit are a reality and will have an impact on cancer care. We should not leave this debate only to politicians. European cancer nursing has a well-developed network due to the existence of organisations such as the European Oncology Nursing Society. These connections are likely to prove invaluable and will provide a forum for ongoing collaboration long after the Brexit date has passed.    


Fahy N, Hervey T, Greer S et al (2017) How will Brexit affect health and health services in the UK? Evaluating three possible scenarios. Lancet. 390, 10107, 2110-2118.

About the author

Professor Daniel Kelly, RCN chair of nursing research at Cardiff University, and past president of the European Oncology Nursing Society

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