Brexit in any form poses major risks to NHS, academics say

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Guardian

Paper in the Lancet says Brexit will damage the NHS whichever form it takes, with a ‘no deal’ potentially catastrophic, the Guardian reports.

Brexit may seriously damage the NHS, whichever form it takes, with a no-deal outcome proving catastrophic, according to an analysis of the health consequences of Britain leaving the EU.

The paper in the Lancet claims that Brexit could have ‘profound effects’ more widely for health in the UK and also hit access to healthcare for the estimated 190,000 British pensioners in the EU.

The policy review was undertaken by three strongly pro-remain academics, who since last year’s referendum result have been warning about its potentially negative impact on health.

Co-author Martin McKee, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “Our analysis of how Brexit will affect the NHS, although the UK’s desired outcome remains unclear, is that Brexit in any form poses major risks to almost every part of the NHS, with a ‘no deal’ scenario potentially catastrophic.”

McKee, a member of the advisory board of Healthier In, a pro-remain non governmental organisation, is a former president of the European Public Health Alliance. He and his two co-authors say Brexit could see the NHS’s budget shrinking, as well as its workforce being hit by fewer EU nationals choosing to come to work in the UK. London and the south-east, which have disproportionate numbers of the 60,000 EU nationals working in the NHS, could be particularly badly affected. Almost 10,000 health workers from the EU have already quit the service since the referendum.

NHS funding could fall either if the widely predicted slowdown in the British economy occurs or if money from the European Investment Bank dries up. The health service has received €3.5bn from the EIB since 2001.

Britons travelling to visit, study or work in the other 27 EU countries face losing the free care they currently receive from their host country’s health system. “Currently the UK pays around £650m per year for care provided to British people abroad, including £500m for pensioners living abroad, which is marginal compared to the NHS budget and represents good value for money, as treatment costs for pensioners in the EU are about half of their equivalent value in the UK.”

The other co-authors are Tamara Hervey, a law professor at Sheffield University, and Nick Fahy, a health policy expert at Oxford University, who worked for the European commission for a decade.

The trio also warn that public health laws governing tobacco, air quality and the regulation of medicinal products could all be weakened as a result of the EU withdrawal bill without MPs having any direct say.

Mark Dayan, a policy and public affairs analyst at health thinktank the Nuffield Trust, said: “This analysis is absolutely right that Brexit will have a much wider impact on the NHS than most people realise. There is a risk that we will be cut off from the market we rely on for medicines and vital supplies. The health service will lose the escape valve of EU migration, which it has been using to deal with chronic staff shortages.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, warned that the gloomy scenario about the NHS’s workforce envisaged in the Lancet study “could be far bleaker” because as many as 2,137 GPs from the EU may be forced to leave the UK if their status is not protected during the Brexit negotiations.

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