Brexit and the NHS - why we all must fight the racist discourse

Westminster promises to get even 'tougher on migration' risk damaging public health and the stability of our NHS.

Ruth Atkinson
1 July 2016
migrant child healthcare_1.jpg

Image: VivirLatino. Creative Commons Licensed.

The right-wing Leave campaign promoted anti-immigrant sentiment to achieve its political goals. The fallout has been the legitimisation of bare-faced racism. Immediately post-Brexit there has been a 57% rise in racist incidents. Those who swallowed right-wing scapegoating of immigrants for problems caused by austerity and mismanagement feel they have been given a platform to publicly abuse people.

Any implication that borders would be tightened represents opportunistic rhetoric.  In his post Brexit speeches, Boris recognised migrants' clear value to our economy, and he made no commitment to changing our immigration laws.

But now Boris is gone and we face the specture of Tory, and perhaps Labour, leadership candidates opportunistically ramping up the rhetoric over tightening our borders. New front runner Teresa May has already shown herself willing to do this.

DocsNotCops fights against racist discourse and laws that discriminate against the most vulnerable. 

We challenge the blame levelled at migrants for the government’s failings, in particular around the NHS. People in Britain are rightly proud of the NHS - but this pride was manipulated by the Leave campaign, who will ultimately not protect a public national health service.

Within hours of the result, Nigel Farage backtracked on his promise to inject an extra £350 million a week into the NHS.

And now Oliver Letwin - who declared that ‘the NHS will not exist within 5 years of a Conservative government’ ,wrote a blueprint for privatising the NHS, and is widely thought to be behind the 2012 act - has been appointed to lead the Conservatives’ Brexit unit. 

We recognise that people had various reasons to vote Leave. Out of the chaos that has ensued, we would like to propose our hopes for the future: healthcare should be free at the point of use for all, to protect public health and the NHS’s founding principles.

Patients should not be discriminated against on the basis of their nationality which, in the absence of adequate training, is often conflated with race, surname or accent. Healthcare workers should not be forced to work as border guards. So-called ‘health tourism’ should be recognised as a fallacy: in the NHS, a migrant is more likely to treat you than be ahead of you in the queue.


As well as being wary of the new legislation that could emerge from Brexit, we need to focus on healing the wounds that the referendum has laid bare. We are a nation divided; we must work together to find unity. At the recent Annual Representatives meeting, the BMA voted to denounce the Immigration Act and promote the value that migrant workers bring to the NHS. DocsNotCops hopes to build on this important support to protect migrants’ rights at this difficult time and ultimately repeal the Immigration Act.

How do we work after coronavirus?

The pandemic has profoundly changed our working lives. Millions have lost their jobs; others have had no choice but to continue working at great risk to their health. Many more have shouldered extra unpaid labour such as childcare.

Work has also been redefined. Some workers are defined as 'essential' – but most of them are among the lowest-paid in our societies.

Could this be an opportunity?

Amid the crisis, there has been a rise in interest in radical ideas, from four-day weeks to universal basic income.

Join us on 5pm UK time on 20 August as we discuss whether the pandemic might finally be a moment for challenging our reliance on work.

In conversation:

Sarah Jaffe, journalist and author of 'Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone', due to be published next year.

Amelia Horgan, academic and author of 'Lost in Work: Escaping Capitalism', also due to be published next year.

Chair: Alice Martin, advisory board member of Autonomy, a think tank dedicated to the future of work.

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