Brexit, the NHS and social care

May 31, 2017

A new briefing document from the Nuffield Trust on Brexit, the NHS and social care focuses on the essentials that the next government needs to secure for the NHS and social care, and the people who use these services.

Ahead of the 2017 General Election, polls show that the public see the NHS and leaving the European Union (EU) as the two most serious issues facing Britain. The Nuffield Trust says that what must not be overlooked is that these are closely connected. Brexit will have a lasting impact on health and social care in the UK, and getting it wrong risks leaving already strained services with an impossible task.

Key points raised by researchers include:

  • The Brexit deal will affect how much money is available to spend on the NHS. The health service needs a deal with Europe that enables the future funding increases all parties agree it needs. While the £350m figure used during the EU referendum is a myth, there is the scope for a significant funding boost when the UK stops paying its EU membership fees, which could give the NHS enough additional money for one or two years.
  • On the other hand, the economic slowdown associated with Brexit is likely to reduce the money available by a greater amount in the short-term. It is in the interests of the health service and patients for Brexit to involve as little economic disruption as possible.
  • The NHS is depending on EU migrant nurses to prevent the serious problem of understaffing from getting even worse. There must be a commitment either to continue to allow substantial nurse migration after Brexit, or to step up domestic training, even if this proves more difficult and more expensive than current policies anticipate.
  • Social care faces a shortfall of as many as 70,000 workers by 2025/26 if net migration from the EU is halted after Brexit. Either substantial net migration from the EU will have to continue, or wages in the sector will need to rise to attract more domestic workers.
  • If all the British pensioners who currently receive health care in other countries through EU agreements had to return, caring for them would require the NHS to spend an extra £1bn a year. This is twice as much as we pay for them to receive care abroad, and there would also be a need for extra beds equivalent to two new hospitals. Every step should be taken to try to secure a deal that allows them to keep receiving care where they now live.
  • It is in the interests of British patients to remain part of a European market for medicines, so that new products are introduced in Britain early and the NHS can draw supplies from across the continent. This will require a deal where the UK continues to work in close alignment with the European medicines regulator.
  • There are other areas of regulation, such as procurement and working time, where the NHS might make use of more flexibility, and the next government should think carefully about what the health service needs before developing their policies on these.

The full report on getting a Brexit deal that works for the NHS is available to read on the Nuffield Trust website.

Further Brexit-related reading

Brexit and social care - risks and opportunities

Impact of Brexit on disabled people

Post-Brexit priorities for social care

Post Brexit: What's next?


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