On the 23rd June 2016, 52% voted for Britain to leave the European Union. What are the potential impacts of Brexit on the NHS?
55,000 of the NHS’s 1.3 million workforce have come from other EU countries. This includes 11,000 doctors (about 10% of doctors) and 20,000 nurses in NHS England alone. This is due to the EU’s current policy of freedom of movement and mutual recognition of professional qualifications within the EU. The BMA states that the “ongoing uncertainty and insecurity is having a destabilising effect on the medical workforce, affecting morale and causing a great deal of stress to those whose futures remain uncertain.” This is already affected staffing levels: nearly half (45%) of EEA (European Economic Area) doctors surveyed by the BMA are considering leaving the UK following the referendum vote. Of those considering leaving, more than a third (39%) have made plans to leave, meaning almost one in five EU doctors (18%) have made plans to leave the UK. Also, the Royal College of Nursing reported a 92% drop in registrations of nurses from the EU in March 2017. Even with current levels of migration, the NHS struggles to recruit and retain permanent staff. The NHS, therefore, cannot afford to lose so many highly skilled workers as this will greatly exacerbate staffing shortages in hospitals and GP surgeries. This could have drastic effects on the quality of patient care and patient safety.
Access to medicines
The UK is currently part of the European Medicines Agency, which regulates the approval of medicines to be placed on the EU market. 73% of UK pharmaceutical imports come from the EU. The worst-case scenario would be a hard, no-deal Brexit, which can halt the importation of drugs is overnight. This would have serious consequence for patients with serious medical conditions. If there is no solution agreed during Brexit negotiations, certain medicines and medical technologies may be delayed in reaching patients or may even become unavailable to patients. In preparation for this, drug companies have started stockpiling medicines.
UK organisations are the largest beneficiary of EU health research funds in Europe, with €760 million in EU funding having supported research in the UK between 2007 and 2013. We will lose this funding when we leave the EU, and therefore the opportunity to be included in research projects. Already EU-funded collaborative health projects are less willing to engage with UK organisations. This will lead to the unnecessary and costly duplication of facilities and product testing.