NHS European Office

Brexit: FAQs


Now Article 50 has been triggered, what is the process and timescale for the UK withdrawing from the European Union?

On 29 March 2017, Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the UK, sent a letter to President of the Council of the European Union to inform him of the UK’s intention to leave the EU, and to invoke Article 50.

The exit negotiations must be completed within a period of two years from the moment Article 50 is triggered. If no agreement is reached within this period, the Treaties will cease to apply to the withdrawing Member State. This European Commission fact sheet on the Article 50 process gives an indication of timescales and key milestones in the process.  We have also produced an infographic on key decisions for the NHS during the exit negotiations.

Also, listen to episode two of our Brexit podcasts which includes an interview with Fabian Zuleeg from the European Policy Centre on the exit negotiation process.


The right of a Member State to withdraw from the European Union was introduced for the first time by the Lisbon Treaty.  Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) provides the procedural requirements for a Member State to be able to withdraw from the EU. 

This involves the notification process from the Member State and procedure for negotiations and a ‘withdrawal agreement’ (‘divorce agreement’) between the EU and the withdrawing State. It does not include any substantive conditions.  

The legal consequence of a withdrawal is the end of application of EU Treaties and law in the state concerned. The Article also gives a time period for withdrawal negotiations of 2 years. No EU Member State has invoked Article 50 previously.

What sort of future relationship is the UK government seeking with the EU post Brexit and what does this mean for the NHS?

The Prime Minister set out the 12 principles which will guide the UK Government during its negotiations with the EU on leaving the union. This announcement was followed up by a Government White PaperRead our article on potential implications to the NHS.

What are the main priorities for the EU in the exit negotiations?

The EU's main priorities EU are revealed in the negotiating directives.  Priorities include; reciprocal rights for EU citizens living in the UK, and UK citizens living in the EU; finding an appropriate financial settlement; prevention of a legal vacuum for businesses; and maintaining the Northern Ireland peace process and resolving the issues of the land border with the EU.  There are further EU position papers on the issue of citizen’s rights and the financial settlement available here.

What will be the impact of the UK’s plans to leave the EU on the NHS?

The NHS played a central part in the Remain and Leave campaigns before the EU Referendum. The director of the NHS European Office has considered what lies ahead for the NHS as the UK plans to exit the EU in this blog article. There is also an article by Elisabetta Zanon published in the Health Service Journal.

We have produced an infographic on the top issues for the NHS related to Brexit and one on the key decisions for the NHS in the Brexit negotiations.

In October 2016, the NHS Confederation issued a response to the Health Select Committee (Commons) inquiry on Brexit and health and social care, where we discuss the key potential impacts and make some recommendations on how to mitigate risks and take advantage of opportunities.

Take a look at some of our blogs and articles on potential impact for the NHS:

What will be the impact on the NHS EU workforce and on recruiting and retaining staff from outside the UK?

Kate Ling from the European Office has produced a blog article on immediate implications for the workforce and what may happen next. There is a highlight on issues such as education, training and on employment regulation, and the Working Time Directive. 

The NHS European Office is a member of a coalition of 29 health and social care organisations created to ensure that standards of care are maintained as Britain prepares to withdraw from the EU.

Does the UK still need to comply with EU laws and regulations?

In a word, yes. On the morning of the 24 June, the President of the Council of the EU issued a statement saying “I would also like to reassure you that there will be no legal vacuum. Until the United Kingdom formally leaves the European Union, EU law will continue to apply to and within the UK. And by this I mean rights and obligations”. Therefore, until the UK formally withdraws from the EU, EU laws will continue to be applied in the UK. Once Article 50 has been invoked, the UK and EU have 2 years to negotiate an appropriate withdrawal agreement. During this period the UK will remain a full member of the EU.

Will I still be able to use my European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to access healthcare in the EU?

Until the UK formally leaves the EU, EU law will continue to apply to and within the UK – both in terms of rights and obligations. So there is no immediate impact on UK citizens travelling and living abroad and using the EHIC or for European citizens living in the UK.

What will be the impact on EU grants for NHS organisations currently involved in EU funding bids?

On 28 June, the UK government published a statement clarifying that there would be no immediate impact on UK organisations applying for funding. On 4 July 2016, the European Commission also sent out a statement confirming that UK organisations can still participate and receive funding from Horizon 2020. 

So the key message to UK organisations and to European partners and colleagues is that the UK is still a full member of the EU and that the result of the referendum has changed nothing legally in terms of our ability to access EU funds for the moment. 

On 13 August, the Treasury announced guaranteed funding for certain EU funded projects, including Horizon 2020 and the EU Health Programme research projects that continue beyond the point where the UK leaves the EU. 

In terms of charting the future collaboration between the UK and the EU on science and research, this will be part of the negotiations process on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Our office responded in writing to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on the opportunities and challenges of Brexit. 

What will happen to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which is based in London?

In February 2017, Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, made it clear to the Commons Health Select Committee that an important consequence of leaving the EU single market will be that the UK will no longer be part of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) system. 

For two decades, the EMA has overseen medicines regulation across the EU and has granted pharmaceutical companies a single marketing authorisation that provides access across the whole of the EU market. Mr Hunt indicated that while leaving the centralised licensing system for medicines, the UK will seek strong partnership with the EMA, ideally through a form of regulatory equivalence, such as mutual recognition of licences. He was however very clear that this will depend on the outcome of the UK-EU negotiations.

More generally, the relocation of EU agencies out of the UK will be part of the withdrawal agreement to be negotiated in the two year time frame. The relocation of the EMA will therefore form part of that agreement. 

Read the statement from the EMA which clarifies that there will be no immediate impact on its work following the UK’s vote to leave the EU.

Latest Tweets

Latest Blog Post

The NHS had a wake-up call after the WannaCry cyberattacks – what is Europe doing to respond? | Sarah Collen

21 / 6 / 2017 11.03am

Recent cyberattacks show a consolidated effort is needed to prepare the NHS for any future cyber security incidents, writes European policy expert, Sarah Collen.

Why Register?

Great reasons to register with NHS Confederation

  • Personalise your website
    Select topics of interest for recommended content
  • Bookmark useful pages
    Quickly and easily find what you need
  • Comment and recommend
    Rate and share content with colleagues
  • Plus, for our members
    Access member-only resources and tailor member benefits and services

Sounds great, what next?

Register Now

Not now, I will register later

Log In

To book events and access member only content you need to register with us.  This only takes a moment via our registration page. If you have already registered login using your email address and password below.