How Brexit might impact the quality of the NHS

How Brexit might impact the quality of the NHS

There has been much debate about how Brexit might impact the quality of the National Health Service (NHS), with widespread concern among healthcare professionals about their future.

Since Britons voted to quit the European Union in last June’s referendum, many EU healthcare professionals have already left the UK, worried about the lack of certainty surrounding Brexit.

In this article, we list some of the main impacts Brexit could have on the quality of the NHS.

Issues with staffing

In the past, the UK has relied heavily on doctors and nurses from the EU to make up staff shortfalls in the healthcare sector.

It’s estimated that 55,000 of the NHS’s 1.3 million-strong workforce are from other EU countries, and 80,000 of the 1.3 million staff in the adult social care sector are from the EU.

With the NHS struggling to retain permanent staff, especially nurses, midwives and health visitors, the UK’s decision to leave the EU could have massive ramifications on staff numbers.

Cross-continent access to treatment

Under the current system, the UK has reciprocal healthcare agreements with other EU countries.

Irrespective of where you’re from in the EU, immigrants in the UK have access to the same healthcare as nationals, and the same applies for British migrants living elsewhere in the EU.

Concerns have been raised about how these reciprocal agreements will work after the UK leaves the EU.

One particular area that has been highlighted as a worry is how the NHS and healthcare sector would cope if UK pensioners currently living elsewhere in the EU returned in droves after Brexit.

Impact on regulation

Another area that will be impacted by Brexit is regulation.

It remains to be seen whether the UK government will continue to follow EU regulations or draft new ones.

Changes could have a massive impact on the NHS, on everything from the working time directive, to procurement and competition law, regulation of medicines and medical devices, and professional standards regulation.

Additionally, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is tipped to leave London after Brexit and move to one of the 19 remaining member states that are bidding to host it.

The relocation of the EMA would have a significant impact on the UK, both in costs to move its headquarters and in the loss of employees.

The agency, which performs assessments and issues approvals of drugs that cover all 28- member states, has become instrumental in boosting the efficiency of drug regulation across the EU.

When the EMA leaves, there is concern that there will be a rise in drug prices and waiting times for treatment in the UK, as well a significant drain on the NHS.

Cross-border co-operation

Brexit could affect the future of science and research in the UK, and how it responds to communicable diseases.

Currently, the EU operates systems for the early warning of such diseases via the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

There are many advantages of such cross-border collaboration, one of which is that it gives the UK access to European research expertise and funding.

Other cross-border co-operation networks could also be affected by Brexit.

Funding and financial pressures

The UK’s decision to leave the EU has created significant economic and political uncertainty when the healthcare sector is already facing financial pressures.

If the decision to leave the EU results in cuts to public spending and higher taxes, the implications for the NHS could be significant.

The price of medicine and other healthcare supplies could also rise with inflation, which could have knock-on effects for the NHS.

An uncertain future

Overall, Brexit could have serious implications for the quality of the NHS. For healthcare professionals, it is a time of great worry, and not without reason.

Only time will tell how the government handles the transition, and how the NHS fares in the face of such monumental change.


What are some concerns you have regarding healthcare in the UK as a result of Brexit? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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