Doctors gathering at a conference in Edinburgh today (Wednesday 31 May 2017) will consider the challenges faced by public health due to shifts in the political and social landscape and the direct threat posed to our healthcare services.

The keynote ‘Dr Andrew Duncan lecture’ will be delivered by Professor Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health, on recent changes to Europe’s political landscape, including Brexit, and their implications for health.  Professor McKee will highlight the growing precariousness in healthcare employment, income, housing and food security in Europe.  He will also explore how certain policies have led to worsening mental health and increased suicides.

Other sessions will look at emerging infections, including the recent reports of new Ebola cases in Africa; the impact of migration on health; and tools for change - how leadership, fiscal policy and social media can improve on public health.

Professor McKee, Professor of European Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, said:

“Across Europe, the pursuit or imposition of austerity measures and the resultant rise of nationalist politics have profound implications for health, with the challenges exacerbated in the UK by the decision to leave the EU.

“Brexit poses many severe and immediate threats to the NHS, some of which are already apparent, like the loss of skilled health workers. Looking ahead, we can expect delayed approval of new drugs, weakening of environomental standards and working conditions, and even loss of access to the medical isotopes used for diagnosis and cancer treatment. However, in the longer term, the greatest  are from the damage to the economy, already becoming apparent, and governmental paralysis when faced with the enormous scale of the task ahead.

“For those of us living in England, and some other parts of Europe, there is much to learn from the internationalist approach being taken by Scotland to the threats that face us all”.

Dr Andrew Murray, consultant to NHS Inform, and the University of Edinburgh, who will deliver a session on social and digital media, said:

“Will our children live to 100 years old?  While we face many challenges to our healthcare system, the future of health is extremely exciting, and we sometimes forget how far we have come.  Incredibly, worldwide, life expectancy has almost tripled in the last 200 years, while game changers like antibiotics, anaesthetics, and medical imaging have changed the face of medical care.  Imagine healthcare without these things now. 

”The internet, smartphones, digital and social media are fairly new kids on the block but we must harness these to make a real difference to health."

Professor Derek Bell, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said:

“The College has worked to improve public health for nearly 350 years and today’s symposium highlights the challenges we face in the 21st century, from political shifts to emerging disease and infections.

“Much remains to be clarified about the impact of Brexit on our healthcare system and workforce and ahead of next week’s General Election, we call on the incoming Government to ensure that the voice of both patients and medical professionals are recognised by policy makers at the heart of these negotiations.”

Other speakers at the event include:

  • Dr Alexander van Tulleken, Helen Hamlyn Senior Fellow, Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs, Fordham University, New York - The impact of migration on health
  • Professor David Heymann CBE, Head and Senior Fellow, The Centre on Global Health Security, Chatham House, London - Emerging infections
  • Professor Colin Drummond, Professor of Addiction Psychiatry, National Addiction Centre, King's College London - Fiscal policy
  • Dr David Walsh, Public Health Programme Manager, Glasgow Centre for Population Health – Why is there excess mortality in the West of Scotland?
  • Professor Evelyne de Leeuw, Professor and Director, Centre for Health Equity Training, Research & Evaluation, New South Wales, Australia – Why do some Scots remain unhealthier than others?
  • Professor Ajit Lalvani, Chair of Infectious Diseases, Imperial College London - How do we achieve elimination of tuberculosis by 2050?
  • Dr Helen Bevan, Chief Transformation Officer, Horizons, NHS England – The fierce urgency of now


Contact: Sara Collier 0131 247 3658


  1. ‘Public Health in a Changing World’ will be held on Wednesday 31st May 2017 at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 9 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JQ
  2. Programme details were here:  http: // (event passed)
  3. The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh is an independent standard-setting body and professional membership organisation whose aim is to improve and maintain the quality of patient care.