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'With chemo you can’t stop giving medicine': How Brexit healthcare fears pushed a UK family to Germany'

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected]
'With chemo you can’t stop giving medicine': How Brexit healthcare fears pushed a UK family to Germany'
Andreas, Uschi and MIchael out for a walk near their home in Germany. Photo courtesy of Uschi Mitchell

Brexit is fuelling uncertainty among Brits in Germany – and prompting people to move countries. We spoke to one family who moved to Germany over concerns about medical shortages in the event of a no-deal.


When Andreas Schrage was diagnosed with leukemia in 2017, his family put all their energy into helping him on the road to recovery.

But they had no idea that something else might stand in the way of Andreas’ treatment: Brexit. 

Due to concerns over medical shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which UK residents were warned could happen, the family made the difficult decision to pack up their lives and move from their home in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, to the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany.

“We were keeping an eye on Brexit and how things were going and things started to get progressively worse,” Andreas, 19, told The Local. “There was no actual recommendation that we should move..but the way things were going, we didn’t want to chance anything.”

Andreas’ mum Uschi Mitchell, 53, who is originally from Germany but had lived for more than 20 years in Scotland, added: “There was the danger that some of the medicines wouldn’t be available in a hard Brexit and that was basically the reason (we moved).

“With the chemo you cannot just stop giving medicine.”

READ ALSO: Number of Brits leaving Germany at 10-year high due to 'uncertainty surrounding Brexit'

Like many others in similar positions, the family feared that Andreas’ health was at risk if a no-deal Brexit happened.

There have been repeated warnings over medical supplies being cut or interrupted if the UK leaves the EU without a deal in place.

Dr David Nicholl, a neurologist who helped draft the UK 's no-deal Brexit planning said during his work consulting for the government, there were fears about adequate supplies for treatments for conditions including epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, diabetes and certain cancers including leukemia.

Meanwhile, consultant ­cardiologist Professor Andrew Clark told British newspaper Daily Mirror he was “alarmed” by the potential shortages.

He said: “From a medical point of view this is likely to be little short of a disaster."

Concerns have also been raised over a shortage of antibiotics and there are worries that transplant patients could be left without drugs that help them stop their bodies rejecting new organs.

READ ALSO: Updated: The ultimate Brexit checklist for Brits in Germany

'Everyone was sad to go'

With just weeks to go until a general election in the UK, the future path of the country hangs in the balance. At this moment there is no indication of how Brexit will happen.

But Andreas' family felt they had to take some decisive action and move to Germany where they know drugs for cancer are guaranteed and not at risk of being stopped.

Andreas, his dad Michael, 70, and Uschi moved to the Eifel region close to the border with Belgium in western Germany, at the end of 2018. 

Even though Andreas, who’s studying creative writing with the Open University, always dreamed of travelling and living somewhere else, there was still some sadness in the family when they left their much-loved Scottish home. 

“Everyone was sad to go, my mum and dad especially,” said Andreas. “I’ve probably adapted to Germany the quickest. But I still miss Scotland. It’s a different country, a different culture.” 

Andreas Schrage. Photo courtesy of Oxford in Berlin and the WZB - Berlin Social Science Center

Andreas and his brother, who is studying in Scotland, have dual British/German citizenship. 

But it’s trickier for Michael, who only has a British passport, and is now one of the many Brits living in Germany with uncertainty.

“His status is not guaranteed in a way,” said Uschi. 

Uprooting their lives and being in limbo is taking its toll.

Uschi said she felt “exhausted and frustrated”. “ I can’t go home,” she said. “I left home. I miss Scotland and I want to go back. Sometimes, honestly, I have the feeling now that I’ve really had enough.

“I was always hoping that something sensible would occur but I don’t think anything sensible is coming out of it (Brexit) ever.”

'There are many more families like us'

As The Local reported, the number of British nationals moving to Germany is going up and researchers have put it down to Brexit.

A study by Oxford in Berlin and the WZB - Berlin Social Science Centre found the net migration total of Brits coming to Germany for 2018 was 3,635, compared to 1,787 in 2014. But that is the tip of the iceberg because it doesn't take into account the amount of Britons who received German citizenship, and are therefore known as German in official statistics.

In fact, the study revealed the number of Brits receiving German citizenship has risen massively since the Brexit referendum in 2016: while 622 British citizens received German citizenship in 2015, numbers jumped to 7,493 ‘naturalizations' in 2017 and predictions for 2019 are higher than all previous years.

SEE ALSO: BREXIT: What complications do Brits face in obtaining residency permits?

All this points to the fact that Andreas and his family's situation is not unique. Uschi said: "There are many more families like us who are in a very difficult situation because one partner is German and the other is British".

"Before Brexit nationality didn’t play a role. We were European and nationality was mostly a cultural thing, where we decided which foods to eat and when to celebrate Christmas. 
"After the referendum my husband and I were no longer equals. Wherever we go in the EU one of us will not have the same rights as the other one."
"Cancer sucks and it made us perhaps sooner leave for Germany than we would have otherwise, but the torment that is Brexit is much bigger than that and it has hundreds of families in its clutches."
Supporting Andreas
The most important thing for the family is Andreas’ health and supporting him to make a full recovery. He is In the maintenance phase of treatment, “the worst of it is behind me,” he said, but there's still some way to go.

“This is the main thing,” said Uschi.  “Until it’s really over it’s not over.”

With its rolling hills, the region they live in now has similarities to the one they left behind in Scotland – and that provides a little bit of comfort.

But like many other people, they are hoping the UK government can come to some kind of sensible resolution.

"We moved to avoid some of the anxiety," said Andreas. "We are just trying to ride it out."



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