How leaving the EU could affect NHS staff, funding and research post Brexit

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JUST days ahead of another “meaningful vote” on Theresa May’s Brexit deal and questions are mounting on how the split will impact the NHS.

Here’s what we know about staff numbers, medical supplies and research could be affected after Britain’s scheduled departure.

Five per cent of all NHS workers are from EU countries
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How will Brexit affect the NHS?

Less than two months ahead of UK’s planned withdrawal and the way Britain will extract itself from the EU is still virtually unknown.

This makes it very hard to predict exactly how any departure would impact on the biggest single service and jobs provider in Britain – the embattled NHS.

However, there is some evidence that certain services could suffer from the split – at least in the short term.

What will happen to medical supplies?

There were fears that under a no deal Britain would be left without vital medical supplies.

The UK’s planned departure from the Customs Union is likely to lead to border disruptions and delays that could prove an obstacle for pharmaceutical supply chains.

In theory, it is possible this could affect supplies of medication that we import, such as radioisotopes for treating cancer and insulin for diabetes.

In response, the Government is busy stockpiling medicines so that when it comes to leaving the EU, we will have the right supplies.

But it is logistically very difficult to stockpile medicines that need refrigerating or have a short shelf life, such as some cancer drugs, insulin and vaccines.

The Government says contingency plans are in place to fly in vital treatments.

However, some small firms have reported problems in stockpiling even normal drugs as they lack the cash flows to finance reserves.

Boris Johnson standing in front of the Vote Leave bus ahead of the 2016 referendum. Theresa May has said the figure ‘will come true’
PA:Press Association

What was the £350m claim about the NHS?

One of the major claims of the Vote Leave campaign ahead of the referendum was that leaving the EU would improve the UK’s finances.

The slogan on the now notorious campaign bus claimed that £350million sent to the EU every week would be freed up to spend on the NHS, were we to leave.

However, it turns out these figures were inaccurate.

The Financial Times calculated the UK’s contribution to the EU as £137m per week.

It also predicted that the bulk of the so-called savings would be distributed amongst a variety of public sectors, so those “savings” would not necessarily be so.

Theresa May however has now claimed this has come true, by announcing last year that the NHS budget would increase by £20bn by 2023.

She said it would partly be paid by a Brexit “dividend”.

Concerns have been raised over NHS staffing levels post-Brexit
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What will happen to staff numbers?

One in every 20 NHS employees is from the EU.

The Brexit agreement means those who are currently working should be able to obtain “settled status” so they can stay.

It is unclear though whether this agreement, due to be voted on again by Parliament next week, will be signed off.

Under a no deal Brexit, the status of those staff is unknown.

Since the 2016 referendum result the number of European Economic Area (EEA) nurses to have left the NHS has tripled.

Around 4,000 staff left the Nursing and Midwifery Council between 2017 and 2018 alone.

Within that same timeframe the 805 members registered with the NMC – compared to the 13 per cent of the 6,382 staff that entered the UK between 2016-2017.

What’s the impact on scientific research?

If there is a transition period – only guaranteed through an agreement on May’s current deal – the UK would continue to benefit from access to EU research funding.

After 2021 though, it is believed the UK will have more of a third-party rolel which means Britain will have less of a central position in design and collaboration.

The government has said a “mutually beneficial outcome” is possible to deal with these issues.

And they have also promised to increase spending on research and development.


Will Brexit free up demand on the NHS?

The government’s Migration Advisory Committee investigated the impact of Brexit on demand on the service.

The September 2018 report found that migrants actually contributed more to the NHS than they took.

It reads: “The small overall impacts mean that EEA migration as a whole has had neither the large negative effects claimed by some nor the clear benefits claimed by others.”


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