Brexit and our NHS

We have all heard the word ‘Brexit’ many times. It is often associated with the economy, trading and businesses failing but have you ever thought about the impact it can have on OUR healthcare system?

For those not aware of what Brexit means let me give you a very brief explanation. It is the idea of leaving the EU (which we have been a part of since the 1990’s). A referendum was held in June 2016 in which 52% of the British population decided to leave the EU [1]. Britain is scheduled to leave the EU in March next year.

The main issue that may arise within the health and social care sector is staffing. Many of the staff and professionals currently working in the NHS come from other EU countries. The figure equates to roughly 130,000 staff of the 1.3 million working in the NHS. It is important to realise that even before we have left the EU the NHS has been struggling due to staff shortages [4].

The Royal College of Nursing has said that there has been a 92% drop in the number of registrations that they received from the EU (March 2017). This may be because people are uncertain about the security of a career in the UK in the future [2]. It is worrying to think what may happen AFTER we leave the EU. One of the reasons why providers recruit the NHS staff from outside the EU is because there are not enough resident workers to fill up the available vacancies. Article 50 only provides protection for those already working in the NHS and not for possible future employees [2]. However, in June 2018, the government did announce that they were ‘relaxing immigration rules’ so that more doctors/ nurses coming from outside the EU were still able to work in the UK [3]. Despite this reassurance, many of the NHS staff could decide to work in other countries. The question here is: If doctors go to work in other countries will that result in the doctors staying having to work extra hours (above the 48-hour limit)? Will that mean that pay will have to increase? And if so where will all the funding come from?

The next potential issue that may come with Brexit is the ability to access treatment in the UK and abroad. Currently, all EU citizens are allowed to have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Holders of this card are able to access the necessary medical health care during their stay in a European Economic Area (EEA). The cost of these treatments can also be reclaimed. Also, EU nationals who currently live in the UK (and vice versa) can access health care the same way all the nationals of that country can access it. If, after Brexit, this can no longer take place then pensioners of UK nationality may decide to come back to the UK and this can have its own negative impact on the system. [4]

Funding and finance. The UK government pays a fee of £350 million A WEEK for membership of the EU. When we leave, we will have billions of pounds to spend on other things such as the NHS. Well, that is what has been promised! The funding of the NHS is dependent on the British economy and the treasury doesn’t seem so satisfied with how Brexit will affect it. The HM Treasury has said: leaving the EU will cause ‘an immediate and profound economic shock creating instability and uncertainty’.

 If the government decides to protect the health service budget and NOT the social care budget this can still affect the NHS indirectly. This is because, in 2016, the lack of social care funding resulted in approximately 400,000 fewer people receiving the social care that they require.[4]. If the £350 million is still not enough where will the government get extra funding from? Will they need to increase tax or will we be required to pay for our healthcare?

Brexit could also have an impact on cancer research.  The EU and UK have worked well together for cancer research and the teamwork is very strong. Leaving the EU can impact the level of research carried out and affect the patients. Fewer patients will be able to access treatments and there may be delays in new trials beginning. Another point to add is that once the UK has left we will have less of an impact in medicine and clinical sciences.  Limited cooperation could result in the UK being deprived of the top researchers that the EU has to offer. [5]

It is clear that the majority of the scientists and healthcare staff are against Brexit. These people can see how Brexit will impact their field of work and society as a whole. As we have already voted to leave the EU only time will tell whether this was an advantageous or a damaging decision.

By Kashaf Imran

Bibliography:

https://www.vox.com/2016/6/25/12029962/why-did-britain-leave-the-eu [1]

http://ukandeu.ac.uk/the-impact-of-brexit-on-nhs-staff/ [2]

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-44703552 [3]

https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/articles/brexit-and-nhs [4]

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(16)30025-0/fulltext [5]

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