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Where were you on Brexit day?  I was in Berlin at the 2016 iFAB meeting and stayed up late to see the result live.

“Ironically” iFAB that year was a collaboration with German and EU foot surgery societies, and the very purpose of iFAB is bringing people together to remove barriers to better science led foot health.

The mood over breakfast in the hotel and at the conference had a hint of …”you did what?”… Jokes were made ….and it was not entirely comfortable.

Collaboration is at the heart of the pursuit of new knowledge and advancing podiatry and foot health is no different. Prior to Brexit our research group had participated in 6 EU projects and received more than £1.5M from the EU. This supported several PhD studies and provided employment for allied health professionals (including me in 2001) as well as people from related disciplines.  The EU projects added to our experience of working with industry and put podiatry academics alongside those from computer science, materials science, clinical research and even mathematics (just some examples).

team photo
Oslo 2017 – FLOWOX EU project team, with Dr Farina Hashmi and Dr Dan Parker from Salford (to my left)

These projects have helped show UK podiatry in a very positive light internationally and several foot health technologies have been progressed (including digital technologies and optimal designs for footwear and orthoses).  In our current EU project “FLOWOX“,  Dr Farina Hashmi and Dr Dan Parker are evaluating a novel negative pressure boot for chronic leg ulcers.

Thankfully the UK government seems committed to maintaining the overall resource available for UK research post Brexit and keeping doors open to working with EU partners. There are, however, signs that EU funding for UK research is falling dramatically (here). For now, we can continue to bid for new projects as the funding will come from money already committed to the EU by the UK Government (the so called ‘divorce bill’).

In this spirit I traveled to collaborators in Spain during January 2018. Several regions of Spain are rich with footwear/insole design, production and related technology centres, universities and companies. Our expertise in foot health and biomechanics blends nicely with their agenda and there is a buoyant podiatry clinical profession to work with too. So, with our EU friends, we will continue to pursue ideas related to improving self-management of foot health, improved orthoses and footwear design, and bringing technology concepts (like big data) closer to the foot health sector.

I don’t know how Brexit will affect other parts of the podiatry profession nor whether we are planning for it – will our graduates be able to work in the EU, or vice versa? Will academic staff be able to benefit from exchange across podiatry schools and thus advance our educational provision?  Will our CPD become too UK centric if travel to and from the UK becomes problematic? Let’s hope not.

The solutions to podiatry’s future do not lie in the UK alone. They lie in working with others who have equally creative ideas about how to lead the foot health sector.  I am looking forward to bidding for new EU projects during 2018 and welcoming the European Network of PODiatry Schools (ENPODHE) and their 125+ academic podiatrists and students to Salford in March (see here).  Whilst Brexit will happen and disturb the status quo, we might all think of specific steps we can take to protect what we feel is important about being part of Europe.  I will not be stepping away from EU activity any time soon, it’s too central to advancing our profession and field.  How about you?

Adios, Auf Wiedersehen, Au revoir ……..

PS : the next iFAB meeting is in New York April 8-11th 2018: https://www.i-fab2018.com/