How might Brexit affect the NHS and our health?

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As the dust continues to settle on the UK’s decision to leave the EU, many people are considering the impact on our National Health Service in the wake of Brexit.

The NHS was a key battlefield in the lead-up to the referendum. Leave campaigners, in particular, were vocal about championing the benefits of a post-Brexit NHS, whilst the Remain camp warned of staff shortages and economic aftershocks resulting in funding reductions for healthcare.

A widely held assumption is that Brexit will impact numerous areas of healthcare, including research, patient care, health policies and staffing levels. But in reality, we won’t truly understand the implications for the NHS until after our departure.

Until then, we look at how healthcare may change post-Brexit and what the potential implications may be for the NHS and our healthcare in the future.

Medical research

Over the last decades, cooperation between the EU and its member states has led to scientific breakthrough in disease prevention and control. But whilst the UK is a recipient of EU funding, it’s also a major contributor – both in monetary and manpower costs.

Withdrawal of EU funds won’t only affect research. It will have an impact on collaborations, the employment of UK scientists and our universities – many of which rely heavily on EU funding for scientific research.

But whilst being outside of the EU doesn’t mean the UK will be excluded from such schemes (look at Norway and Switzerland, for example), it will be the job of the government to negotiate this country’s inclusion.

Staff shortages

The NHS has always relied on overseas staff to boost its workforce, with over 4% of NHS nurses from the EU. Ensuring adequate staffing and the right mix of skills is a major priority (as well as a major headache) for the UK government – one that would be impossible to achieve without the ability to attract and retain NHS staff from overseas.

This has lead to some arguing that NHS workers from the EU should be given ‘special status’ to avoid a staff exodus which leaves the NHS vulnerable and facing a recruitment crisis.

Health and social care

EU nationals play a major role in providing health and social care within hospitals and the community. With an ageing population (one in 12 will be over 80 in 2039) and social care spending stretched to the limit, the public may well question how the UK will recruit enough staff to meet the needs of this group in the future.

EU regulations

The Department of Health is responsible for reviewing the EU regulations that apply to the UK and deciding whether they should be replaced (with UK-drafted alternatives) or repealed. These include minimum rest requirements and annual leave for healthcare professionals. If the government decides to repeal the regulation, this has implications for NHS contracts and significant changes will need to be made to the current Agenda for Change framework.

One of the most contentious pieces of EU legislation affecting the NHS is the European Working Time Directive which allows doctors to opt out of the 48-hour working limit. Whilst some believe that this will have a negative effect on training, for example, others are confident that the UK can develop new ways of working.

Further information

Whatever the UK’s relationship ultimately is with the EU, patient care, funding, and other key drivers will still be high on the NHS agenda. If you have any queries around the information within this article, contact one of our medical negligence solicitors by calling 0117 905 9763 or filling out our 
online enquiry form.


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